It was reported this morning by Kevin Raber, publisher of Luminous Landscape and a medium format industry veteran, that Chinese drone maker DJI has acquired a majority share of iconic Swedish cameramaker Hasselblad. There hasn’t been an official announcement, but Raber says he confirmed the information with multiple sources.
The partnership DJI refers to is public knowledge; it owns a strategic minority stake in Hasselblad. And that ownership stake has resulted in collaboration, notably the A5D camera for the commercial M500 drone.
Raber’s analysis points to the unexpected success of the X1D as the impetus for the investment. He believes that demand for the mirrorless medium format camera was higher than anticipated, and that Hasselblad lacked the resources to deliver on orders in a timely fashion.
And that’s pretty spot on. The X1D was announced in June. Six months later, there are still shipping delays. Hasselblad reseller B&H Photo has an expected February arrival date for the premium black 4116 edition kit ($12,995), but no anticipated date for the more aggressively priced ($8,995) body. Oddly enough, you can buy both the available 45mm and 90mm XCD lenses for the camera and have them shipped to you today—but they won’t do much good without a camera on hand.
And let’s not forget that 2016 was Hasselblad’s 75th anniversary year. It didn’t just put out a new mirrorless system, it also updated its medium format SLR. The H6D-50c was announced in April—we got our review unit in July. At the same time the 50MP 50c was announced, Hasselblad also touted a 100MP version, the H6D-100c ($32,995). One photographer reported receiving a unit in September, but the camera isn’t available for ready purchase today.
It’s clear to me that Hasselblad is having trouble keeping up with the demand for its product. In some instances that’s a good problem to have—say if you’re selling relatively inexpensive $500 phones or tablets. But when you’re dealing with high-dollar, high-margin medium format gear, you want to get units out the door to recoup manufacturing and research and development expenses. And with the ambition to launch two new marquee products in a single calendar year, there’s no doubt that Hasselblad sunk a lot of money into R&D.
A side note, the other 75th anniversary product, the True Zoom module for Motorola phones, isn’t manufactured by Hasselblad. I would not be surprised if the total of Hasselblad’s involvement in its development was cashing a check for use of the brand name and logo.
The Future of Hasselblad
So, let’s say Raber is right, and DJI simply isn’t prepared to announce the additional investment at this time. What does it mean for the future of Hasselblad?
I’ve been covering DJI products for a couple of years now, and am continually astounded as to how much better its drones have become in a short amount of time, how quickly products are updated, and how aggressive its pricing is. Especially when you consider that its product is a generation or two ahead of the closest competition.
If DJI is willing to throw serious money Hasselblad’s way, not only to allow it to scale up production to meet demand of its high-dollar medium format product, but also to develop new cameras, the future of the brand could be very bright indeed.
The Hasselblad we saw in 2016 was not the same company that was rebranding Sony cameras, adding exotic wood grips, and selling them at an insane markup. It’s one that strives to innovate and expand its market. Fujifilm may have stolen some of the X1D’s thunder with the announcement of its own medium format mirrorless system at Photokina, but while there are similarities between the Fuji GFX 50S and Hasselblad X1D, they are two very different cameras.
With some money and room to work on new products, Hasselblad could reach down and develop models for photographers who can’t quite afford medium format mirrorless, but want to own a real Hasselblad. There are still folks out there clamoring for a digital version of the 35mm panoramic X-Pan, after all—coincidentally a camera that Hasselblad collaborated with Fujifilm to make.
We can speculate until the cows come home. Let’s just hope that, regardless of whether or not this report is confirmed by the involved parties, that photographers who are patiently waiting for a new X1D will get it sooner rather than later.