INTERVIEW: Hasselblad CEO on the X1D, the lens ‘roadmap’ and the potential impact of a Brexit vote
Amid the furore following this week’s announcement of the Hasselblad X1D-50c, 'Amateur Photographer' magazine talked to the firm’s CEO Perry Oosting about the new mirrorless medium format camera
Q. How long has the X1D been in development for?
A. It’s been in development since the end of 2014, and then we really kickstarted it at the beginning of 2015.
Q. How do you think this will impact the business?
A. I hope it will have a very positive impact. First, it puts the Hasselblad brand where the original V-system was. The V-system was the clear inspiration. If you look at the story of Hasselblad, [founder] Victor Hasselblad never thought that he’d just create it for professionals. We have sold around 550,000 V-System cameras since its birth. Why was that? Because it was a camera not only for the professional, but also for the amateur. And that’s what we hope to achieve with the X1D.
Q. You have previously said you wanted to widen the market. Is this the product for that?
A. That’s part of it, yes. It’s a journey, of course. Look, the market is changing rapidly, so we needed to change. We needed to prepare for the future and the strategy is a wider market, a strategy based on our core values, our core DNA, and then also look to the future of the brand. The ‘imaging experience’ is where we belong, like many others. That should not be restricted to just still photography cameras. The X1D does video, but I’m not only talking about video. If you want to dream, there are so many other elements of imaging experience – think about soft goods, the Cloud and post-production. It’s not that we have definite plans for all these – because we have a lot of other things still to do in the short term – but, in a way, you need to have kind of a vision for a longer-term view. What is the Hasselblad brand going to stand for? I think [that] should be a vision of ‘imaging experience in tomorrow’s world’.
Q. Will the X1D be the first in a series?
A. Personally, I’m very proud of the design because I think we’ve been respectful to the past and inspired by the past. At the same time, it’s a very modern camera with great ergonomics. So, this could be a classic camera for the future. That’s what I hope for. But classic in the positive sense, not classic being ‘old’, but classic being ‘identified by’. It’s like Jaguar. For me the Jaguar E-type is a classic.
Q. We wondered whether Hasselblad would perhaps make a digital camera that could be adapted to accept XPan lenses
A. There is sometimes a lot of romance about the past and we respect the past and take our inspiration from it, but we need to prepare for the future. We get a lot of requests to make a 6x6cm [digital] model, but financially it doesn’t make any sense because we have to develop a 6×6 sensor. I’m not so sure that many of those people who asked would pay the necessary price point, having looked at the economic models behind it. So, if you develop a product you need to say, OK, we have a foundation, which is the new electronic platform we created [for the H6D]. That foundation can lead to additional products. Of course, the X1D uses completely different parts: the PC board is a different size with some different functionalities, and there are different ways of taking pictures. The higher ISO is also key. The X1D is a portable camera – that was the thought process. We would love to do 6×6 sensors, though.
Q. How does the European situation play out for you? If we leave the EU will this have consequences for the price of cameras? [This interview was conducted before the UK’s EU Referendum vote]
A. We live in a very transparent world. We live in a global world. People are very flexible. Purchases are done sometimes in home markets, sometimes abroad. We try to get one global pricing that is very similar from country to country. So, you need to try to achieve the best possible global pricing model. Now, that’s not always possible because of fluctuations in currencies and you can’t always start changing your price points. You also have different import duties and VAT rates. We have a base price, without VAT… and one plus VAT. In Sweden it’s 25%. It’s not my decision that it’s 25%.
Q. Could a Brexit vote have an impact on the price of your products from a UK perspective?
A. Well, we need to see how the pound is doing, of course. We have a price point, and if a change [in the pound] really makes a difference then we probably have to adjust the price point. Sometimes you make currency gains, because of fluctuations.
Q. I see that you used to be managing director at Prada.
A. My background is as a gold and silversmith – from the fashion I did in the art academy in Holland where I specialised in that.
Q. Were you keen on photography or did you have any experience of it?
A. I love photography. I do not classify myself as a dedicated amateur at all, and certainly not as a semi-professional, but I joined Hasselblad because I love the brand, and I like the people and the iconic [aspect] of the brand. We are small, but we are a global brand. Our business is one third in Asia, one third in Europe and one third in the US, and where else do you find that? Many brands that are very strong in one market are struggling in some others.
Q. In which countries do you see the X1D doing very well?
A. I cannot disclose the name yet, but in Asia we will launch this product in 10 stores operated by a partner that we have worked with since the V system. They saw this product and were just over the moon with it. Then we had a very positive reaction from B&H Photo Video in New York.
Q. So, America is going to be a big market for the X1D?
A. I think America is going to be good. Of course, there is opportunity to work with stores in Europe that carry Leica or other products in this price segment, but where we are currently not present. Also, Germany is a market where we are relatively small. It has some really important hubs: Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Cologne.
Q. Do you hope to encroach on the market of companies such as Leica?
A. I think those dealers are interesting for us because they have the knowledge, the staff and the customers for that price segment.
Q. You say that a 45mm f/3.5 and a 90mm f/3.2 lens will be available when the camera goes on sale at the end of August/beginning of September, with a 30mm to follow at Photokina. How quickly do you see a family of lenses for the X1D?
A. We have more on the roadmap for 2017.
Q. Do you know how many?
A. I won’t disclose it yet, but there will be several new lenses coming. The reason we did new lenses was to optimise the ergonomics.
Q. Do you expect this to encroach a little on your existing professional system cameras?
A. It’s a different market. It’s a mirrorless camera. The other one is a system that people are used to working with for many years.
Q. Do you see the mirrorless system as growing in the future?
A. Absolutely. I think this is a market where you are getting great optical quality and where you get the depth and dimension from that sensor. It’s not like ‘ours is bigger than yours’. Forget that story. And it’s not a megapixel race.
I think the grip is really great. We spent two days on the grip, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, using wooden blocks, testing it with big hands, small hands, Asian hands, Western hands, men’s hands, women’s hands. A good picture depends on how comfortable you feel with the camera and how you hold it.
Q. Do you see the mirrorless market as taking over from DSLR?
A. I don’t know. There are some upgrades going on among photographers. Smartphones wiped out the compact camera and the DSLR people are trading-up. There will be more and more players in medium format… If you are already there, isn’t that a really great opportunity to expand, especially as a first step in your strategy?
Q. I see that the camera is assembled in Sweden, yet some of the components are made outside?
A. Yes, but the whole mechanical design is done by us in Sweden. We then looked at sourcing the parts. The shutter is made completely in-house as we see that as a key element we own, as well as the user-interface design. But, of course, we don’t make the display, we source the display and we test the display. But the board behind the display and the UI are absolutely by us.