Dear Hasselblad: I Like That You’re Widening Your Audience, But Hate How You’re Doing It

Dear Hasselblad: I Like That You’re Widening Your Audience, But Hate How You’re Doing It

The photography industry is so drastically different today than it was just ten years ago that if you’re going to survive, you absolutely have to be dynamic and ready to adapt to the things quickly. You have to find your niche and go for it full force or risk failure. Hasselblad is doing this with their form-over-function Lunar and Stellar. Yet I’m left thinking… Hasselblad, I’m not certain you thought this latest set of moves through. I’m not certain you know what’s happening to your brand. I’m not certain this is where you need to be.

I think I can put myself in Hasselblad’s shoes pretty easily. Based on the moves they have made in the last year, I feel like I have a decent hold on what happened to get them to this point. Here is my guess: 

  • Due to the economic downturn, consumers started spending less money, especially on high-priced “luxury” items.
  • Hasselblad saw a decrease in sales. Decrease enough, and for long enough, that they got worried. They reorganized their US distribution and partnered with Broncolor to try and stem the tide.
  • Knowing this won’t be enough, Hasselblad decides to expand their market. But the only way to go was something far cheaper. Wanting to save their “high quality” brand status, they needed to keep prices higher, but not out of reach.
  • Hasselblad partnered with Sony to save money on researching and developing their own cameras from scratch. To save even more money, their partnership only allowed them access to cameras that had been on the market for a certain amount of time.

So here we stand now, with Hasselblad’s access to older, but still petty good, Sony cameras. Put a little lipstick on them, and voila! Cheaper, smaller Hasselblad. Simple, effective and guaranteed to earn them lots of money.

Except I’m not convinced that any of that is true.

If Hasselblad had slightly more foresight and invested in their own R&D early on and produced 100% Hasselblad original compact cameras, I’m pretty sure we would all be singing a different tune today. But they didn’t. In fact, it’s painfully obvious how not original their cameras are. The image quality produced from a Hasselblad Stellar is absolutely no different than the original Sony RX100. By the time the Lunar hit the market, Sony already had a better version of the NEX-7 on the market. Not only are you paying more, but you’re paying more for technology that’s already on its way out. You’re paying 100% for name recognition in a market where specs and performance are king.

Let me compare the decision to a different industry. What if we took a cheap but well-performing car... Say, a Toyota Corolla. Let's say this car retails for $18,000 or so, which is pretty low these days. Here it is:

toyota corolla regular

It's a fine car, has its particular audience and performs pretty great. Now, lets say Lamborghini partnered with Toyota in an attempt to broaden their audience and sell to more folks. They took a Corolla design, but jazzed it up a bit. Added some wood accents, and tossed the Lamborghini logo on it. The end result is the Lamborolla, a clever mix of high-selling and luxury, all for the low-low price of $60,000:


Except it's not clever. It's stupid, it's ugly and it causes irreparable damage to the Lamborghini brand. What is the difference between this farce and the Hasselblad Lunar and Stellar? There is none. It's exactly the same situation (except Lamborghini is too smart to make such a terrible decision).

The way Hasselblad is talking about their new cameras scares me. They are daring to tell me that the Stellar is unlike any camera on the market when it is quite obviously not. They aren’t even trying to hide the fact that it is just a re-skinned camera, but simultaneously trying to convince me that it is special and truly original.

And I don’t think there is a soul out there that is buying their lie (literally and figuratively speaking).

My main point is that I’m concerned for the welfare of Hasselblad in the future. Their current strategy is highly indicative of a bold move to prevent their own collapse, yet the decision to go with just decorating existing cameras is damaging the one thing Hasselblad relied on to make money: their reputation. They are dramatically cheapening a reputation that can’t afford to be cheapened.

Even though these cameras have no direct link to a standard Hasselblad H5D, the feeling of discontent with the cheaper cameras will spread to the overall feeling of the brand, eventually cheapening arguably the best medium format camera on the market. That’s a side effect Hasselblad simply cannot afford to let happen, and yet they created the environment where this snowballing cause and effect situation cannot be avoided… unless they right their ship- and soon.

Hasselblad, I really like that you’re trying to widen your audience. It’s the smart thing to do when the walls are closing in on you. However, the way you have decided to go about gaining more customers will not only fail, but will drag the only thing that you have down with you: brand value. You need to stop your present course, reassess what Hasselblad really stands for, and bring us more affordable cameras that match that. Right now, your brand is highly conflicted and confusing to consumers. This is the absolute worst place for any brand to be, and you need to address the situation immediately if you plan to survive past the next five years.

[Hilarious Corolla Photoshop by Noam Galai, Originally Published on]

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I really don't understand who is making this decisions inside Hasselblad. It's probably one of the most stupid things I've seen in ages, they even beat Leica (in stupidity)

Jaron Schneider's picture

At least Leica is making their own cameras.

True, overpriced with terrible performances and outdated but they still make them.
I really don't understand why Hasselblad is doing so, it looks like this company is ruled by old farts who still believe they are in the 90s.

get a clue what your talking about el cheapo... don´t be envy because you can´t afford one.

Oh yeah, I really envy a camera that has a sensor au pair with the DSRLs of 10 years ago for the price of two Canon 1D X.
Do we want to talk about the new Leica X Vario as well? :)

Emil Nyström's picture

Well... leica did the same thing with Panasonic zoom cameras. They didn't even bother to change the design. They just put a new logo on it.

Well Emil, thing is Leica at least put their own menu interface and processing algorithm so the output IS different from the Panasonic counterparts (even if they have the same sensor, lens, and processor).

With Hasselblad there's none of that. Still same awful Sony NEX interface, same algorithm, sema everything. They haven't even bothered looking under the hood, and that just makes it all that much sadder.

Spy Black's picture

Not true. Panasonic makes some of the bodies. They too are suffering from getting "Vivitar'd"...

leica is making a ton of money.... so they can´t be that stupid.
hasselbald has not such a bright future.

'they even beat leica in stupidity'. ouch.

Another car analogy would be when Cadillac put its logo on chevy compacts and called it Cimarron... except the Cimarron wasn't built as well as a Sony...

hasselblad is dead in 5 years...

Very optimistic....

Greg Tennyson's picture

Someone will buy them out of bankruptcy and make even shittier cameras with Hass'y logos on the side.

Thanks for this article. True, so true. Some small additions...

The Lunar actually tried to have an original design. It's some sort of enhanced design that people can love or hate. But the stellar is a really cheap and crappy approach. It's really, like someone called it recently a pistol handle bolted to a plastic camera... Not more. It's hideous.

Furthermore ... the Lamborolla example is not far off. In fact Bristish sports car maker Aston Martin partnered with Toyota and is selling the iQ super mini rebranded for 3x the original price (

The problem starts, when companies with a great heritage are being bought by private equity investors who want to see ridiculous profit margins (this usually happens after the engineers failed to look at any profit margins whatsoever).

And you're right – I strongly believe that these overprices cheap Sonys will water down the heritage and have a negative effect on their pro series (however – I think the "Ferrari" version of the H4D is clearly nort making it much better either ...)

Von Wong's picture

lololol this is gold jaron!

Jaron Schneider's picture

Thanks dude! I just couldn't get over this last night. Had to get it down on paper and have my say.

Hasselblad is currently in a really bad position. The market for genuine "luxury" camera systems (like Leica, Arca Swiss, Alpa etc) is too small. At the same time, the pro-sumer and point-n-shoot market (Canon, NIkon etc) is too large. This puts Hasselblad right in the middle and they appear to have no idea what to do next.

If they want to do what is necessary to be taken seriously as a luxury brand then they have to downsize and be ready to cater to an extremely small market. On the other hand, if they want to be taken seriously by mainstream pro-sumer and point-n-shoot photographers then they have to stop all of the luxury nonsense and offer something more practical. They're damned if they do, damned if they don't.

I can only foresee one way out of this situation and it's totally radical. They can go back to concentrating on making film cameras and use their brand name to expand into film, paper, chemistry, enlargers etc. If they were to take this radical step, then they'd be the main company positioned to service the potentially robust hobbyist/artist film photography market that is getting ready to arrive as a negative response to digital. In other words, digital imaging is now becoming so commonplace that it's inevitable that many photographers will rebel and go back to film. Hasselblad's name and history puts them in the PERFECT position to meet the demands of this future market.

This is as misguided as their current approach, if not moreso.
That's like saying that digital in audio will cause a rebellion and people are going back to vinyl. Digital is opening up a wider audience as it makes the technology more accessible to everyone who wants to live in an instant world. Film is a niche and the writing is on the wall for it. You just have to look at all the film varieties out there that are being discontinued.

In 2008, I advised Fuji to offer a camera system that would compete with Leica. At the time, common perception was that the idea was crazy. But today in 2013, Fuji has done pretty well with their new rangefinder.

Today, a lot of people might think that a return to film would be crazy for Hasselblad. But 5-10 years from now it might not sound like such a bad idea.

Oh it was you! In 1983, I advised that kid Steve to pursue with his apple-ish robot machine... That punk made his way

LOL :-)

except the fuji x cameras aren't rangefinders of course, they just look like one- kind of a big difference ;-)

That's right, it's not a an "actual" rangefinder. I probably should have put the word rangefinder in quotes. I meant that it was originally designed to appeal to the market of consumers that enjoys the old-fashioned rangefinder design (which is generally considered Leica's territory) as opposed to the consumers that tend to prefer SLRs (Canon/Nikon territory.)

the "" implies the difference is trivial - which leads to the conclusion you've never used a real rangefinder - really? if not a lecia, try an old mamiya. the fuji's are not a rangefinder, they just look like one - totally different ethos that's not even coming close to competing with leica, honestly i don't think Fuji have ever competed with leica in its home rangefinder turf, only in the 'pretty looking and pretty expensive POS digital' side market. BTW, I mean POS as 'point and shoot' but I accept theres multiple meanings for the acronym ;) BTW I think you're right about 'blad they should totally be partnering with ilford or buying kodak's film division. rerelease the H2 as an 'entry level' film body and officially partner with phase one to do the digitial side of things rather than wasting more r&d competing with them (or not).

Hi jrtbloke,

You're right about the old Mamiyas, I love those cameras. BTW - there's a new interview with Dr. Kaufman, of Leica, where he sums up exactly what I meant by the "rangefinder" market in my previous post:

"We believe that only Fuji makes money because they had the good idea to copy us. Fuji's CEO said in an interview to a reporter Reporter: We are
devices that resembles Leica because our customers love it!"


Yea I was just about to mention that vinyl albums have had an ABSURD resurgence thanks to the hipster scene and audiophiles preaching the gospel that is analog and tubes.

"Even with the welcome boost in sales, it should be noted that vinyl
sales still have a fairly infinitesimal impact on the overall market,
making up only 2% of the 142m album sales clocked up in 2013 so far."
Microsoft has more market share in the smartphone market, that's how
small it's presence is.

You somehow missed the point in Mikes argumentation.