Short term pain, long term gain

IMG_4095b copy
Exotic beasts. Yes, the 100MP cameras have been shipping for some time now; yes, that one is mine – the door gifts at HQ are amazing! – and yes, I’ll be posting a report once I’ve had a chance to live with and use it for a while.

I’m writing this on the way home from a very intense tour of Europe – a visit to see my brother, review and refine design for the second generation of bags (yes, there will be a smaller one!) visit some clients, meet some alumni and check in on the status of a couple of other projects. Since I was broadly in the right area – and because it’s a bit of a trek otherwise – I had to make a pilgrimage to Hasselblad HQ.

It turns out I arrived at precisely the peak of activity. Yes, there’s been another announcement; yes, there are necessary changes, and yes, it appears that the DJI deal was true – the silence being deafening. Many things were taking place during my visit that were restricted to high level management. In any case, I was much more interested in the historical prototype lens cabinet.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first: I am aware a lot of you have contacted me regarding X1D production and allocations and delays; I can report that the production line was going full tilt even though a lot of it was being reorganized, and there were a LOT of cameras in process. Production of the X1D keeps increasing every day and back orders are well on their way to being filled. Interestingly, in addition, the process for both X and H cameras is heavily individual-test dependent, which goes a long way towards explaining why a) it isn’t fast and b) not easy to ramp up.

Secondly, yes, there’s more stuff for the X in the pipeline – but at the threat of being bludgeoned with a rather large and heavy 8/500 CF lens, I can’t say any more than it will be a much more complete system in the near future. I begged them to take my credit card in some cases, but no dice.

As an external observer, it seems to me that Hasselblad operates a bit less like a company and more like a giant chaotic family; there’s real pride in the workforce, and a much higher level of enthusiasm for photography and image-making than I’ve seen elsewhere. A lot of the people I talked to were very competent hobby photographers – they love their products and their jobs. It’s this family culture that a) I’m very proud to be welcomed into, and b) probably their greatest asset – and limitation.

My understanding is Hasselblad were sitting on the tipping point: do or die, guts or glory. The X1D and subsequent future had to happen, or there may well have been no more Hasselblad at all. Private equity ownership is well and good in access to capital, but having been in that industry myself – I can say that all of the time, transactions are not only dispassionate, but not really understanding the business and the company beyond a set of numbers. This is not a way to grow or dominate a market or change or revolutionarize anything. What the team accomplished on a shoestring is nothing short of a miracle, and they deserve massive praise*.

*Yes, the company was finally profitable after ten years of losses – but running out of operating capital: cashflow is king, and timing is the killer: profitability doesn’t necessarily translate to money in the bank.

DJI, on the other hand, is a fast mover with some significant mass – they are a ~$12b market value company, with ~$1b turnover and ~$250m EBIT – those are serious numbers. They have the resources and the inhouse capabilities from both the hardware side and the software side (video throughput requires significant horsepower, as some of you will know). I believe they have the innovation and the resources but could perhaps benefit from the culture, warmth and legacy of Hasselblad.

I said [in my earlier post] that if the investment really happened, it wasn’t a casual decision: I absolutely believe that to be the case now, having spoken with a lot of the team and seen the changes put in place. But like any investment of this size: the side writing the cheques will always institute oversight especially if there are operational synergies to benefit from, and all of the associated integration issues. It won’t be a pleasant or enjoyable process – but I think a necessary small amount of pain now to prevent a future lingering illness and death.

Bottom line: not knowing the exact details of the arrangement, and purely as an external observer with some understanding of finance, business and the industry: I still stand by my earlier comment and think that the change of structure and ownership is not a bad thing at all. Throughout all of my discussions at HQ, it’s clear that every party puts the customer first – as it should be. The outgoing leadership brought the company back around, but the new leadership with Paul Bram will now have the resources to take things even further. Paul is an engineer and production specialist, and something that’s largely been ignored – we now have a Swedish CEO in charge of a Swedish company after Chinese ownership. The company is also investing heavily in production and R&D in Gothenburg and Copenhagen. Will he have a challenge? Definitely; but it’s painfully obvious to everybody in the company that stability and consistency are also desperately needed (and hopefully, one doesn’t ignore the obvious).

Changes in management happen all the time in every other industry without the same sort of hand-wringing that takes place on photography forums: it doesn’t matter so long as the customers are being serviced, or serviced better, which includes the long-term system plan (no changes there) and delivery (improving, X1D production to reach the thousands by February).

Medium format is a funny business: high price, low volume, low-medium margin; it isn’t the cash cow that other trends are, but it’s also a fairly stable business that could benefit from a solid kick to go from patching leaks to a full renovation. I still believe there must be some very good reason for DJI to make the acquisition – and I suspect it may well have something to do with the uncertain long term future of drones as regulation increases.

I left after a much-too-short visit with the rather unique feeling of finding a third family – albeit one whose living rooms are decorated with all sorts of historical goodies (V series mechanical clock body, anybody?) – and a H6D-100c, which I’ll be reporting on again soon…MT

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Comments

  1. Hi Ming
    I just finished reading a very interesting article about the X1D and two of the lenses on Lloyd Chambers
    DIGLLOYD, and I was very surprised to read about the strong focus shift on both Lenses!!!
    I was wondering what is your opinion and experience with this!
    Many thanks
    Ettore

    • Peter Wais says:

      Ming’s reply to your question will certainly be helpful. I have also read digilloyd comments as a subscriber. FWIW, I have an X1D + 30mm and 45mm, but have not used the 90mm.
      Noting that I only use manual focus, I am happy to report that, in my hands, neither the 30mm nor the 45mm have exhibited any focus shift I can notice. Focus distances have been 0.6m to ~15m, apertures f/3.5 down to f/8. Results are stunning, to me, with both lenses @ f/4.8.
      Lloyd mentioned that he used AF and Live View to compose and focus the 45mm, neither of which are in my handheld/ manual focus technique. He also referenced a 1mm shift with the 90mm. My inspection of A2 prints would have noticed a 3mm or 4mm shift, but I will not claim I would see or care about a 1mm shift.

    • I didn’t specifically test for this at close distance, though under my usual shooting conditions (5m+ subject distance) I’m not aware of it. I’ve asked the factory though, let’s see what they say.

  2. thanks for article. I owned and shot heavily with H3d-60 and very much liked camera,h lenses and results. Trouble was camera mirror threw a screw against sensor and damaged sensor. Hasselblad customer service was dreadful despite best efforts of my local dealer and I was without camera for 6 months. Most of that time all I got was run around from Hasselblad when they were in midst of what seems to be continuous changes in company. The camera and lenses are great. The company not so much. So in 2012 I sold all my Hasselblad gear but have watched the continuous changes in ownership and corporate direction continue to this day. I’m not willing to make the major investment in Hasselblad gear until the company stabilizes.

    I would be cautious of the firm unless one happens to be someone like you that is a highly visible spokesperson for them.

    I enjoy your view on photography. Thank you for your site.

    • Ouch – that doesn’t sound good. Unfortunately the reality is no camera company gets it 100% right (or even close) – I’ve had bad experiences with pretty much all of them, Hasselblad included (at one point). I’ve come to the conclusion one chooses by a) reliability and needs and then b) people and local support – eventually, I hope they’ll get that last bit up to a consistently high level…

  3. Calvin Yee says:

    Hi Ming, what’s involve in the fine tuning of your camera? Thanks very much.

    • In this case, removing some shims from the HTS rear optical group for optimum performance with my 24mm and H6-100. The other lenses checked out fine (and didn’t require any shimming, and neither of my H5-50 or H6-100 required AF adjustment)

  4. Hi Ming – Are you planning on coming out with a version 2.0 of the larger bag or are you just focusing on rounding out the sizes?

  5. Ralf Scholl says:

    Hi Ming,
    owning a H6D-100c now, please check the following (and report your findings to HQ):
    Phantastic picture quality, but
    – Cf-H-converter recognizes the max. aperture of all CFE-lenses, but doesn’t allow a lens choice (just no reaction to turning both wheels on the hand grip, 4,0 is always 40IF, even if using the 120CFE or 180CFE).
    – GIL not useable, no menue-entry to activate it.

    Picture quality is really great, but firmware in these points is a true banana (ripes in the hands of the buyers). – I’m absolutely pissed off because of this.

  6. Hi there Ming.

    Thank-you for writing this piece – you had a unique experience, and I like that you consider what you write – which produces a refreshing honesty and good read.

    “… X1D production to reach the thousands by February.” Is that a cumulative total? Or monthly / weekly / daily production?

    🙂 … MomentsForZen (Richard)

  7. Hello Ming
    You really nailed it. It is very sad to see Perry go and I told him as much. I think he is due a vacation after all that he has accomplished. I also don’t see the negativity that Raber associates with DJI. Thanks for the info on the factory, did you get to meet Ove or Per?

    • I met everybody: spent some time with both Ove and Per and their secret historical prototype archives – 502s, f2.8 SWCs, compact 350 SAs, a Zeiss CF zoom…I’m going back so I can shoot with all of that stuff 🙂

      Per also tuned my HTS to perfection with the 24 and H6-100 – I thought the existing setup was good, but now – WOW!

  8. Craig Fields says:

    A few days ago I visited B&H in NY. They had two X1D bodies and both 45mm and 90mm lenses to try with my own SD card. They said one of the bodies had been giving them much trouble so they suggested the other one. During twenty minutes of taking photos with both lenses there were repeated failures: autofocus way way off, body shutting itself down, and more. And at the end the hand grip containing the battery was hot enough to be a hand warmer in Sweden. From all that I got just 2 images. Both were absolutely stunning and put my Sony A7rII+Loxia to shame. No way to be sure whether the issues were because the bodies were hard-used demo units, not the latest firmware, fundamental design or component flaws, or whatever. For me the prudent course is to wait a bit and see how things shake out before investing in a new lens mount, for that is what it is. I am resisting the temptation to make guesses about DJI and Hasselblad. But if things look good and work out I will invest in the lens mount.

    • I’m fairly sure they were preproduction bodies (at very least) and likely not latest firmware – I’ve experienced the same early on with the one that was with me for a while (very first batch, single digit serial!) but not the later ones I used in Tokyo, HQ and Gothenburg.

      It is a new mount but with the same communication protocol as the H series lenses.

    • What kind of marketing department Hasselblad has to have a not working functioning demo cameras in the largest camera store in the world?

      • It’s entirely possible that B&H didn’t update the firmware, either.

        That said, all production cameras are being shipped to customers; even the ambassador program shares two very early beta cameras amongst 15 people. I’m sure if you’ve ordered one you’d much rather not have to wait behind store demos 🙂

        • I hear you. However, I prefer to try a camera first before spending $14k on it!
          I would be inclined to not order the camera if I had a bad first impression due whatever reason that might be. Firmware or hardware…

          • Absolutely agree with you, even if RRP is closer to 9k 😉 Still, needs to be figured out if it’s B&H or HQ…I have forwarded this on.

            • Thanks for the followup. I honestly want Hasselblad to be successful as I think they have created a great product that I never thought I’d consider. It’s lots of money for me, but I am willing to invest in the system so I want to make sure I make the right choices! By the way, I am considering the Fuji GFX as well!
              My $14k calculation is based on the fact I need lenses too + Taxes (I live in NYC). +/- of course 🙂

              • Peter Wais says:

                My limited experience (asking about an 905 SWC issue and then a new X1 purchase) was that the distributor Hasselblad employs in the USA is very weak. I would say an embarrassment to HQ. This is why I never considered buying my X1D in the US.
                FWIW, two things I would offer to Virtualstorm: (i) B & H is as good a retailer as there is, even compared to Leicashop Vienna, and (ii) the Fuji may offer a different set of attributes, but the X1D and XCD are really excellent!

              • Makes sense 🙂

  9. Peter Wais says:

    Ming, thanks for the encouraging report from your visit to HQ. Great to read your comments about both the apparent optimism and future plans for the XD system (is that what we call it now?), given that I just invested in an X1D + 30mm.

    So far, the results are all that I could have hoped for in terms of image quality. This suggests that the Hasselblad + Nittoh teams have a marvelous formula for the system that could well steal a significant share of the high-end FF market. One can hand hold at 1/30s and shoot at ISO 3200 with confidence, meaning the flexibility of the system is remarkable even by FF standards!

    The body is quirky, yes. It will be interesting to learn how the organization, which you emphasize remains customer-focused, will explain or resolve some of the larger nits. I am going to try contacting HQ, but I also eagerly look forward to your continued reports while you are giving the 100MP a chance to cool down a bit, :).

    • I didn’t think the body was that quirky – but it might be because I’m mostly used to the H5/H6 already. There are some AE-L related behaviours in the H6 that need solving, but those didn’t carry through to the X1D because it has different physical buttons. If you shoot me an email with your UI/ FW concerns I’ll see they get sent on to the right people at HQ.

      • I just received my X1D last Thursday and did some shooting with it over the weekend. My experience so far is very positive. It is quite stable, which was reassuring as I was shooting at around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. No glitches, and the touch screen was flawless. The one issue I did have is the AF/MF button has to be set to MF to use back button AF and turn off AF when the shutter is half depressed. The problem is that the way you call up the multi point AF grid for selecting an AF point is by pressing down the AF/MF button for 1-2 seconds. In doing this, the camera frequently reverted to half press AF. There needs to be a way to prevent that from happening. Perhaps there should be a custom setting that turns off half press AF completely so the AF/MF button in the camera is only used to call up the AF point grid.

  10. Richard Lavender says:

    There are some Hasselblad bodies left behind on the moon during the Apollo missions as I am sure they were left behind to conserve weight.

  11. Yay for smaller bag! Will it have a curved front flap edge like the original? I think it could use a straight one, just for looks 😉

    • Not decided yet – depends on the fastening system we find decide on…trying a few alternatives which may be faster and easier (and wouldn’t work with the larger handled flap)

  12. Thanks very much, Ming.
    I was really surprised that Perry Oosting was replaced.
    He seemed to have really understood the problems of Hasselblad brand-abuse, and performed a minor miracle (along with the rest of the workforce) to bring the company back to its heart with exciting product.
    I thought that Mr Oosting would have settled in to execute the new product strategy, and bask in the glory that came with it. But perhaps he was just appointed as a captain for the episode of crisis, now replaced with a person focussed on execution.
    I have recently made a major camera purchase choice, but am hanging back from mirrorless medium format. I want to see how the systems develop, and the place they come to occupy compared to the already very capable DSLRs.
    The X1-D is the more attractive body, but the current lens family *seems* unexciting. There aren’t many reviews to go by, so perhaps that view is misinformed. If Hasselblad can deliver on a great lens roadmap moving forward, it may flesh out to a more compelling system.
    And, of course, who knows what other mirrorless systems will be in the competition seriously 18 months from now.
    We live in very exciting times!

    • Alexandros Papadimitriou says:

      I believe that more light should be shed on the man that saved the honor and reputation of a historic camera manufacturer.
      Maybe more bedazzled rebranded cameras are on the way now that Perry Oosting is gone. He clearly stated in an interview, “…The Lusso project began some time ago 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.”
      It will be a very sad day for Hasselblad if this is the future and the reason for his replacement.

    • Whatever the internal politics of appointment may be – I think we’ll never know because this kind of thing stays behind closed doors. But I fully agree he did an amazing job at the helm given the conditions.

      Lenses: a solid core set, and performance is really quite excellent. I do know there are more in development to be announced soon – but obviously can’t say more than that! 🙂

  13. Happy New Year Ming, can’t help but noticed the 40cfe if. Were you able to finally get your hands on the rear bird, or at least try it out?

  14. Thank you for the update Ming, it is very interesting to have your perspective on this. I wish Hasselblad all the best with their go-forward, it will be a lot of hard work. The customer first attitude that you noted is very encouraging.

    The entire photographic camera business is really tough now, and will get tougher as many users reach ‘good enough’ cameras, the volumes sold continue to decline, and industry trends shift.

    It will be interesting to see who survives and prospers, and who struggles over the next 5 years. Niche strategies often play well in such conditions, and Hasselblad are operating in one such niche.

    • Mass market is definitely slowing down – the volume players doing well (Fuji, Sony) are the ones taking innovation risks – even if they aren’t always well thought out or complete. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a big cycle in which the ‘old’ DSLR makes a comeback in 10 years…

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