The news from the Hasselblad event last week left me hopeful and excited about the medium format market. Having a marketing background, I am interested in how the market is changing and how the major companies are playing their hand. I want to see their long-term allegiance to me as a customer plus a decisive, long-term game plan so I know there is a committed company standing behind the products I invest in.
Two things captured my attention at the Hasselblad event. First, Hasselblad has lowered the price of the X1D II 50C. Although there is always a danger in competing on price, I actually think this strategy is an opportunity for Hasselblad. If they play it well, it can still allow for stratification of specialized high-end gear for professionals but will bring new customers and renewed prestige to brands that remain unreachable for most consumers. Leica is a great example. They aren’t selling $999 intro cameras, but at $4-6K the market is opening up enough to feel achievable someday compared with a $40K Hasselblad or Phase One. (Note: after writing this I saw that Leica has just announced an intro rangefinder at sub 4K!)
The second thing that excited me was the deep connection to Hasselblad history and the brilliant play on nostalgia! Hasselblad has the opportunity to use their reputation for high-end cameras (they have had 100+ MP for years!), and if they can build an on-ramp into their ecosystem for younger professionals who will build their career on that system, then I think they stand to win long term. Basically, they should play the Fuji game plan in reverse, they have the high end market chops already. Fuji has been smart at making new cameras look retro and focusing on the “feel” of the camera and the “feeling” of shooting with it. They made the rangefinder cool again with the medium format 50R.
I think Leica may be the only company with an equal or greater claim to nostalgia than Hasselblad so they should use it the way Leica does! When I was young and saw a photographer walking around or shooting in the studio with a V-series Hasselblad it was the epitome of cool, or as cool as we photographers can be! The beautiful chrome lines, the sound of the viewfinder popping open and the commanding plop of the shutter…for me, it’s a visceral and romantic feeling working with those cameras. And you knew if someone had that camera, they were serious and committed, and had an aura of creativity and fresh visual thinking. So there is no question in my mind that the idea of the new modular retro system is a great one, of course, if Hasselblad delivers on its promises. Just imagine seeing those cameras with a new generation of photographers, looking down into their finders exploring the world in that way, or carrying the recognizable black and chrome digital body and lenses to travel lighter. The entire Instagram would blow up with photos of digital creatives looking down their viewfinder—a marketing hallmark on its own. If they priced it in the range of the current, entry-level medium format offerings like the GFX50R I would buy it myself, buy a couple of lenses over the next couple of years, and then I would be all in. And when I upgraded next time, I would have used the Phocus software, and it’s not such a leap! I would be a customer for life.
Did I mention I could use all of my older V-series gear and body, which gives me so many creative options?
If on the other hand, their target market is the retired “bon vivant” in their video, he may buy it but we will never see it on the street, and he will keep it with his other expensive cameras until he puts it on eBay in 10 years’ time as a retro camera. At that point, in my opinion, Hasselblad will have missed the opportunity to remind a new generation of what it meant and what it felt like to shoot with a Hasselblad.
I’m not ignoring the X1D II 50C, and I think it seems like a robust camera from the first tests with the pre-production model, but I don’t think it’s an emotional and compelling purchase-driver like the CFV II 50C AND 907X. Instead, it’s a stylish option in the ecosystem and a balance for those who like the nostalgia the brand is creating but want a more contemporary package or traditional feature set. My point here is that they don’t need another good camera because they have that! Hasselblad needs to create a compelling reason to buy and an entry point to the Hasselblad system, and personally, I don’t think the X1D II 50C can do the work alone even with the new pricing structure. But the new CFV II 50C and 907X can do it big time! Although this introduction may not be overly profitable initially it would certainly bring a new wave of customers who, with time, will keep upgrading and buying more and more expensive products. That is priceless.
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