Hasselblad has gone on the defensive, answering the criticism the firm's compact interchangeable lens camera system has received since its introduction at Photokina yesterday. Olivier Laurent speaks with Hasselblad's Luca Alessandrini and Peter Stig-Nielsen
Hasselblad unveiled Lunar yesterday, an interchangeable lens camera that is strongly reminiscent of the Sony NEX 7 and uses the Japanese firm's technology – from its sensor, to its image processor and lens mount.
The launch, which coincided with Hasselblad's announcement of its strategic partnership with Sony, has since been heavily denigrated, with critics condemning Lunar's retail price of €5000, forcing Hasselblad to go on the defensive.
"We realise it's difficult to explain what we're trying to do when we launch something for the first time," Hasselblad's new business development manager, Luca Alessandrini, tells BJP. "After a little while, when you come out with more products, then people will start to understand. But in the beginning, when a product is coming out of the blue, it's a hard one," he admits.
At the origins of the project, which will see Hasselblad release a series of compact, digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras, is the question: "What does Hasselblad mean to people?" and "Which have been the key values of the company, that has been around for 40 or 50 years, that have kept people coming back?" says Alessandrini. And the answer is quality and durability, he explains. "We decided to look at what we could do with the Hasselblad range, and one thing was to go back to our heritage, which is to develop cameras for more people, while keeping the same values that made our company famous. For example, that involves using the best material available. In the 1950s, it was stainless steel. Nowadays it can be carbon fibre, it can be solid aluminium. In this camera we're embedding our titanium controls. We're embedding our core values that, in the past 15 years, we've put into the H system."
He adds: "I've heard a lot of crazy things about this camera. People are talking about ‘rebranding'. I think rebranding is something really different from what we've done. We have, in this industry, many examples of what rebranding actually is," he says, referring to Leica and Panasonic. "In their case, it's not a partnership, it's an original equipment manufacturer process, because their cameras aren't really different. They use a different logo, but the cameras are made of the same material, are sprayed with the same paint, and are assembled in the same factory, with the same low-cost labour forces. It's not a partnership. What we're doing is creating different cameras. What we are doing is buying different components from the best suppliers, and applying our knowledge and expertise to create a different camera. This is not a NEX 7 camera, just because we are buying components from Sony. The hardware is just a small part of the whole. It's not because we're using a Sony sensor that it makes the Lunar a Sony camera."
In fact, says Alessandrini, Hasselblad has an entire R&D team in Sweden that is actively working on the development of the Lunar camera. "For example, the camera's body is made of aluminium. It takes five hours to machine this down. You can only produce three or four a day, and it costs €300. The same part, but made of plastic, would cost 35 cents. So, you could go to Asia and do a similar product for a few hundred euros, but you would be using cheap materials. Or you could use the right materials and the right processes, but it will have to be priced at €5000, €6000 or €7000."
When it designed the Lunar camera, Hasselblad was mindful of keeping the look and feel of the firm's flagship cameras. "If you take Canon, for example, all of their DSLRs look the same, but their Powershot cameras have a completely different look, and the same is true of their mirrorless model. So, the question is: ‘What is the Canon style?' What we're doing is designing three cameras – a compact camera, a DSLR and a mirrorless – with the same style," Alessandrini tells BJP.
But Hasselblad doesn't rule out adding more of its DNA into the camera's internal components. "We believe the sensor we are using, made by Sony, is exactly what we want. This sensor is magnificent. For now, we don't see any reason to modify this sensor. We want to do things only when we know we can do them better," says Alessandrini. "But this is just the first model we've done. Maybe the second or third model will be different. We launched this one now because we know that what we've been able to achieve here is enough to guarantee that this is a Hasselblad camera. If we were not sure about that, we would not have launched it."
And if Sony were to release a NEX 9, Hasselblad would not automatically use the camera's technology to unveil its own version, warns Alessandrini.
In the end, Hasselblad, with this new initiative, is hoping to attract a larger, younger audience to its range of cameras, says Peter Stig-Nielsen, Hasselblad's director of professional camera products. "I've been longing to talk to a younger audience of potential professionals, and I really believe the Sony name is familiar to this audience. Sony is in the gaming industry, the music industry – things that relate to a young generation. I think the Sony brand and the Lunar product is going to help spread the message about what Hasselblad is."
And, adds Alessandrini, Hasselblad is not forcing anyone to buy the Lunar camera. "We want to be very honest: we have a tradition of choosing the best materials for our cameras. People have the choice – they can like, or not like, this concept. But we're not robbing people by making a huge profit on the camera. Our profit margin is the same as everyone else's; we're just using more expensive materials."
Visit www.hasselblad.com for more details.
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