Interview: Hasselblad to re-visit core values and aim for a wider market, says CEO Perry Oosting
Hasselblad CEO, Perry Oosting, in the production area of the company's Gothenburg HQ. Shot with the Hasselblad H5D50c-Wifi
The appearance of the Hasselblad Lusso, a jazzed up version of the Sony A7R, in the Asian market will have filled some of the company's followers with despair and supplied its critics with ammunition. Hasselblad's recent foray into new product categories, via a relationship with Sony and an Italian design house, was not universally well received, to say the least. The project spawned a collection of remodeled Sony cameras with luxury finishes and questionable morals – the HV DSLR, the Lunar and the Stellar – that left the industry in a state of shocked astonishment. At Photokina 2012 it felt as though Hasselblad was having a very public identity crisis.
|The Hasselblad Lunar made its debut in 2012. Essentially a Sony NEX-7 with a stylized handgrip added on, it was introduced at a price of $6500/€5000.|
The Lusso though is not a camera that will see a global launch, says Hasselblad's recently appointed CEO, Perry Oosting, who tells DPReview that the company's direction in the future will concentrate on re-connecting with the core values of the brand. And yes, that does mean an end to the rebadged cameras.
'The Lusso project began some time ago' Mr. Oosting explains, 'at the request of our partners in Asia. We promised to create the camera then, and we have now delivered on that promise. The Lusso is a strictly limited edition of fewer than 100 units that will be sold mostly through our distribution channels in Hong Kong. It will not be sold elsewhere, and there will be no more units made.'
|The Hasselblad Lusso gives the Sony A7R the wooden handgrip treatment.|
'In fact, we can't make any more, and as our Italian design studio is now closed we won't be making any more products along these lines in the future. There is a demand in Hong Kong for this product, and Hong Kong has the distribution of specialist stores and exclusive department stores that can sell it. There is also a good customer base of people who value craftsmanship and who are aware of the Hasselblad brand. As I said though, we had a commitment to deliver this camera and we have fulfilled that commitment.'
Mr. Oosting is diplomatic about the Hasselblad that existed before he took up his role at the beginning of this year, and says that the company learned a lot of lessons about the market and what is important to its customers. At the same time though he tells me that the Stellar, Hasselblad's version of the Sony RX100 series, sold well and was a profitable camera which allowed the company to reach a new market.
New products for new markets
Reaching new markets will be very much a part of Hasselblad's future, and Mr. Oosting talks about 'segmentation and tiering' as critical to the company in the years to come. Currently, Hasselblad caters to the top end of the professional photographic market, to museums, to the aerial surveying industry and, via its scanners, to labs and repro houses. While there is clearly no desire to follow the path of the recent past, Mr. Oosting makes it pretty clear that the company wants to broaden the range of products it produces and to appeal to a much wider audience. He hints that the idea of Hasselblad DSLRs, compacts and mirrorless bodies wasn't wrong in itself, rather it was the way those products came about that created the issues.
'Spec is just the ingredients. You can give the same ingredients to two chefs
and get two very different results.'
'Hasselblad has core strengths in design, in optics, in software and in intuitive handling – and in combining those elements to make great products. I want us to really focus on those strengths, to go back to our core and to make the most of the expertise that exists in this company. We need to concentrate on our differentiators - what makes Hasselblad unique, and bring those strengths together in Sweden all under one roof. What will be important isn't what we do, but how we do it. There is a lot of spec [specification] in the market, people throwing spec around, but it is what you do with that spec, not the spec itself. Spec is just the ingredients. You can give the same ingredients to two chefs and get two very different results.'
|The Hasselblad CFV-50c digital back was introduced last year for V System camera bodies, providing a CMOS sensor with an ISO range of 100-6400.|
'We are going to re-focus on the core of our brand, and while we segment and tier the business we will keep to those values. We will respect the past as we plan for the future.' Mr. Oosting refers to the CFV-50c back that was released a year ago for the V system of legacy film cameras. He says it is designed like a V Hasselblad accessory, and that it respects the history of the company and its values. 'It respects the classic form of the film bodies, but brings that concept into the modern world with its digital capability.' Without saying it directly, Mr. Oosting implies that this will be a metaphor for Hasselblad's products of the future. 'The CVF is a profitable product that is a great brand story, linking cameras from the 1950s to today. It isn't just a piece of retro, it's a great performer.'
Maintaining the values of the brand
When talking about what he means by creating a tiered product structure, Mr. Oosting uses Porsche as an example. 'At the heart of the Porsche brand is the Carrera. Every year it gets an update, something new is added, but it remains a Carrera. The market for the Carrera is small, so Porsche has introduced SUVs and the Boxster. These are still very much Porsche cars, with the brand values of Porsche intact, but they are designed to suit different markets.
|Hasselblad's H5D was introduced to the world at Photokina 2012 with 40, 50 and 60 megapixel models.|
'In Hasselblad the H is our Carrera, and gradually we want to tier our product range in a similar manner. This will be done in a timely way - when the Carrera is your core, your next product isn't a Boxster. We will take our time to ensure we maintain our core strengths – optical quality, true colours and combining the right spec. Our H camera is the same shape as the V cameras, but is more modern, and in the future we will have cameras that are derived from and inspired by the past, but which will be modernised and contemporary.'
'Just because a car can drive at 140 kilometres per hour doesn't mean it is a good car.'
We talk about the life of medium format, and what the future holds as the pixel count of full frame cameras gradually creeps up into medium format territory. 'Just because a car can drive at 140 kilometres per hour doesn't mean it is a good car. That is just a spec. Hasselblad's unique proposition is combining the right spec together. It is our lenses, with the shutters built-in, our optical quality, the good handling and the way our cameras translate the image. The best museums in the world use Hasselblad because they respect our optical quality and our colour. The questions you have to ask are, how do your lenses deal with a 50-million-pixel sensor, how is your software and how are your ergonomics?'
A future of authenticity
Mr. Oosting says that while the Hasselblad of the future will look internally for its technology it will still have relationships with other companies when it needs to. 'We still have a very good relationship with Sony, and in fact we have recently restarted that good relationship. In the long term we will work together, but there are no co-branded products on the horizon. All our design work will be done in Gothenburg, along with our concepts and production.
|The Hasselblad A5D is designed specifically for aerial photography and is available in 40, 50 or 60MP versions.|
'We will always be strictly about imaging too, so you are not about to see Hasselblad perfume or a ready-to-wear collection. We are about authenticity. Authenticity is a key word for us, and it needs to be celebrated again. We are going back to the values of Victor Hasselblad. Our new A5D aerial cameras are an example, as our first ever camera was an aerial camera. I understand that people have been waiting for this [the return to authenticity], but preparing for the future takes time. We have been quiet recently, because we have been concentrating on internal matters.'
We speak about the way the market has developed recently and, in particular, the emergence of video as a key feature for cameras these days. I point out that some former Hasselblad users have switched to products that shoot high quality video from which stills can be extracted – such as the Red cinema cameras that shoot 6K video in Raw format. 'We acknowledge what is going on in the market and what is being asked of professionals. I can't comment on how Hasselblad will respond, but you have to always ensure that you are using the best technology. Specialist tasks require specialist equipment.'
Hasselblad is not a luxury brand
Perry Oosting has arrived at Hasselblad via a career in the luxury brands market. He has worked in senior positions at Bulgari, Prada, Gucci and Vertu, which may actually be more cause for concern among long-term Hasselblad users than any comfort. 'There are many similarities between Hasselblad and some of the brands I have worked with in the past, but there are many differences as well. There are similarities in the legacy and history of the brand, the level of craftsmanship and accuracy in production, the customer care and the passion customers feel for the product. Professional photographers are proud to shoot with Hasselblad cameras, they care about them and love them. These cameras are tools though, but beautifully made tools that users have an emotional connection with. Luxury isn't a word we associate with Hasselblad.'
'I can bring experience from my previous jobs, but not a recipe for success. I am still new to this company and this industry, so I have concentrated on the years of experience and expertise of people who have worked for Hasselblad for a long time, and we have created a three year plan that the whole organization has embraced.'
While Mr. Oosting didn't give away anything about specific new products, what he said is a great indicator for the future of the brand and the way it will develop. My own feeling is that the ghost of the wooden-handled Sony co-products needs to be exorcised. The distraction they caused and the ridicule they brought on the company, from almost every angle, needs to be painted over with a new, more positive chapter. It seems Hasselblad will once again venture into the territory of other formats, but this time with the core values of the brand running all the way through the product instead of just on the name plate.
I asked when the future will become the present, but Mr. Oosting wouldn't be drawn, saying only that progress would be 'timely'. Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say, but 70% of it was burned to the ground in just six. The new Rome that emerged was bigger and grander than anything that had stood before. Let's hope the same can be true of this old Swedish icon.