During a press conference at the Photokina show in Germany, representatives of Sony Corporation from Japan and Victor Hasselblad AB from Sweden announced the start of a new long-term partnership. They plan to "work together in efforts to achieve technical and engineering breakthroughs in various photographic technology challenges." Although Hasselblad is known as a medium-format camera manufacturer, the first product from this partnership is a digital Compact System Camera, the Lunar.
This new product will employ the technology and components from the Sony NEX-7 in a body designed and built by Hasselblad. The Lunar will incorporate the Sony 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, BIONZ processor, the Tru-Finder OLED viewfinder, and the 3" swivelling TFT Xtra Fine LCD w/TruBlack technology. The E-mount will accept all Sony NEX lenses and with an adapter, A-mount lenses as well. There's no indication that Hasselblad plans to develop such lenses.
The $6,500 Hasselblad Lunar
Not all of the camera's specs have been published, but the brief sampling suggests that they'll be similar to those of the NEX-7. Most industry observers were surprised that the conservative Swedish company would be introducing a "re-branded" or "rehashed" NEX-7. (Of course, Hasselblad was acquired in June 2011 by the private equity firm Ventizz Capital Partners and may no longer be conservative at all.) Many were also critical of the planned price of about €5,000, roughly $6,300 CAD. The NEX-7 is certainly an impressive camera, with great versatility and fabulous image quality, but it's definitely more affordable, selling for about $1,200 in Canada.
During the Photokina press conference, Hasselblad CEO Larry Hansen explained that the price differential is partly because this will be an ultra-luxury camera. "For the first time ever, we are using carbon fibre, titanium, wood, leather and precious metals, including gold." That's somewhat vague but apparently, various optional handgrips will be available made of materials such as carbon fibre, wood, or Italian leather. And special-order models will boast some components made of precious metal. Presumably, all of that will drive up the selling price.
After criticism about an excessively high base price became rampant on the Internet, Hasselblad's new Business Development Manager, Luca Alessandrini, responded in an interview that's published in the British Journal of Photography (BJP). He insisted that it's not re-branding at all. "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," Alessandrin explained.
In addition to some components made of expensive materials, he expanded on the reason for the significantly higher price, in the BJP article. "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¢. 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 €5,000, €6,000 or €7,000 .... We're not robbing people ... Our profit margin is the same as everyone else's; we're just using more expensive materials."
A Hasselblad/Sony for Everyone
The Lunar is only the first product of the Sony/Hasselblad partnership, said Hasselblad CEO Larry Hansen during the Photokina press conference. "Our expectation is to show and launch cameras in every sector of the photographic market, while offering the best image quality available in each segment, relying on our collaboration with Sony. ... My goal is to make Hasselblad cameras accessible to all serious customers."
As a result, Hasselblad is planning to release a full-frame DSLR, a range of digital compact cameras, tripods and luxury accessories as a follow-up to the Lunar. By Hansen's own admission, this is a "rather aggressive plan." Some industry observers believe that they'll succeed with the marketing of premium-grade products because of high demand in countries such as China and Russia. Canadian journalist Michael Reichmann, for example, offers the following comment about the Lunar on his Luminous Landscape Website.
"Elsewhere they'll be ridiculed (such as here), but in the end this may be what Hasselblad needs to do to survive. They'll sell a boatload in some parts of the world. Time will tell if this becomes a working strategy for Hasselblad. It does appear though that as the medium-format marketplace remains under assault, becoming a vendor of fashion items is the future that Hasselblad's new VC owners have carved out for themselves. Hope it works for them."