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Hasselblad H3D Concerns

By Michael Reichmann

Following the publication of my Medium Format Videoblog, several readers have written wondering what all the Hasselblad fuss is about.

The situation is this. The Hasselblad H3D, just introduced at Photokina, will be by the company’s own admission, a closed system. This means that the camera will only interface with either a 22MP or 39MP back made specifically by Hasselblad for this camera, and presumably future backs from Hasselblad as well. No other company’s backs will be able to be used. This was stated publicly at a Photokina press conference by Hasselblad’s CEO, Christian Poulsen.

So what are the implications of this for current Hasselblad owners, potential purchasers, and the industry as a whole?

Let’s look at current Hasselblad H camera owners first, of which I am one. I own an H1, an H2 and four H series lenses. I use these cameras with a Phase One P45 back. While the introduction of the H3D Pro obviously doesn’t change the usefulness of my H1 and H2, it does impact my future with the Hasselblad system. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that Hasselblad has also introduced a new ultra-wide angle 28mm lens. This lens will not work with an H1 or H2, only the H3D and future Hasselblad cameras. We have been told by Mr. Poulsen to expect that future lens offerings will similarly be chipped so as to only work with H3D and later bodies. This means that any new Hasselblad lens developments will not be available to me or any other current Hasselblad user unless we switch to an H3D Pro.

But, here’s the rub. I can’t just buy an H3D Pro to be able to take advantage of the company’s new lenses. I must buy it along with either a 22MP or 39MP Hasselblad digital back, even though I already own a Phase One 39 Megapixel back.

I have a US $30,000 investment in my P45 back, which I expect to amortize over a number of years. Now I am unable to do so, or am forced not to if I wish to remain current with new Hasselblad bodies and lenses. I’m no lawyer, but this seems to me what is called “linked selling”. This is a practice involving forcing the customer to use a single company’s parts or accessories, thus effectively locking out competitors. If this is the case, I would not be surprised to see competition tribunals in several countries deciding to take a look at this situation.

Then, there is simply the matter of choice. While I am sure that Hasselblad’s backs are quite competent, maybe even superior to those from Leaf, Phase One, or Sinar, why shouldn’t I be unable to make that determination for myself? If a Hasselblad back is superior, that’s great. But no one buying an H3D Pro will be able to make that determination for themselves. It seems that from now on it’s the Hasselblad way, or the highway.

And therein lies my second concern. While existing H camera owners like me are penalized in one way, prospective Hasselblad owners also are penalized. Such customers will not be able to choose which of several digital backs available from a number of companies is best for their needs. This is akin to telling photographers that a camera can be used with just one brand of film.

The third aspect of my concern is the affect that this action may have on the entire medium format camera industry. This is a small and somewhat fragile segment of the marketplace. In recent years we have lost Bronica and Contax. Pentax 645 cameras can’t take removable backs, and so that leaves just Mamiya and Hasselblad standing as full system medium format offerings. (The new Rolleiflex Hy6 open architecture system is still some time off.)

For Hasselblad to now close the door on interoperability is a slap not only at camera buyers, but also dealers, and the industry as a whole. It seems to me that they are using their dominant market position to lock out other companies that wish to participate. By doing this they not only restrict competition and potentially harm competitors, but also reduce choice for consumers.

I also take exception to another Photokina related action by Hasselblad. Their advertising slogan for the H3D is to call it “The World’s First 48mm Full-Frame DSLR Camera System ”. When I first saw that slogan in their booth, press conference and publicity materials I was confused. Had they produced an all-in-one digital camera body, which would (though a stretch) allow them to call it a DSLR? No. The H3D has a removable back, just like the H2 and H1. So why call it a DSLR, which word the entire world has heretofore used as a description for 35mm format derived digital single lens reflex cameras? A Nikon D200 is a DSLR. A Canon 30D is a DSLR. An Olympus E400 is a DSLR. But a Hasselblad? No one has ever used the designation DSLR to refer to a medium format camera with interchangeable backs.

Now, of course Hasselblad is free to call their product almost anything they like. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But, why use words in a manner that will likely cause confusion in the marketplace?

I also was confused by the part of the slogan which describes the H3D a 48MM Full Frame. At first I thought that they had somehow managed to get a chip that was full 645 size – without the 1.1X factor all MF backs have had thus far. But no, the chip that they are using in their 39MP back for the H3D is exactly the same size as the one in their previous 39MP back, and also the same size as those in other back maker’s 39MP devices. All that Hasselblad has done is create a marketing slogan – one that I fear will cause considerable confusion in the marketplace and can only be seen as misleading hype.

Following discussions with several of them at Photokina, I have learned that Hasselblad dealers are also not happy with this new product. Many of them sell Phase One, Leaf, and Sinar backs as well as Hasselblad cameras and backs. Now, they will not be able to sell an H3D with any back other than one that comes with it from Hasselblad, even though it may be what the customer requests. Also, in some markets, Canada for example, Hasselblad’s camera and digital backs are sold through different channels. It would appear that those channels that handle the Hasselblad’s non-digital line may, going forward, be completely frozen out of the company’s new cameras and lenses.

It seems to me that through its restrictive approach to interoperability and compatibility, combined with an advertising campaign seemingly designed to create confusion in the marketplace, Hasselblad is a company placing both its customers and its dealers at a disadvantage. I’ve been an enthusiastic Hasselblad user for some 35 years, starting with a 500c through to today's H series, but I am not at all pleased with the current direction being taken by the company.

In closing, I note that the newly launched Hasselblad house magazine is named Victor, after the company’s visionary founder Victor Hasselblad. Given what we’ve seen from his company this past week I wouldn’t be surprised if Victor Hasselblad was rolling over in his grave.

September 30, 2006


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Concepts: Single-lens reflex camera, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Hasselblad, Camera, Twin-lens reflex camera, Medium format, Digital photography, Digital camera

Entities: his company, Phase One, Pentax, Bronica, Contax, a Phase One 39 Megapixel, Canada, DSLR, advertising campaign, considerable confusion, Michael Reichmann, Victor Hasselblad, Christian Poulsen, Victor, Hasselblad house magazine, DSLR Camera, Olympus E400

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