Hasselblad and Sony to work together on luxury cameras

Pining for camera with a hand-stitched Italian leather grip and jewelled control dials? You're in luck.

A prototype of Hasselblad's Lunar camera. The company plans versions in wood from beech, mahogany, pear and olive trees.
(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The digital photography revolution exiled Hasselblad's medium-format cameras to an expensive niche inhabited almost solely by professionals. But the company has announced Lunar, the first camera in an effort that Chief Executive Larry Hansen hopes will bring the storied photography brand back to a wider — if not mainstream — market.

Through a partnership with Sony, Hasselblad unveiled its 24-megapixel mirrorless interchangeable-lens model, built on the bones and brains of Sony's high-end NEX-7. It's due to ship in February and will cost about €5000 (US$6500), Hansen said in an interview with CNET after unveiling three Lunar prototypes at a press conference at the Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany.

That's not all. Hasselblad will push into the SLR and compact camera markets, also through the Sony partnership, Hansen said. The digital SLR, based on Sony's Alpha line, should arrive in mid-2013, and the compact camera within a year.

The Hasselblad Lunar prototype has gnarly knurled knobs and two red jewels.
(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

"I'd like to say: this is the moment where Hasselblad shakes off its dust," Hansen said.

Unlike Sony's models, Hasselblad's will feature leather, wood or carbon-fibre exteriors — design elements inspired by luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Bentley. The cameras are even designed in Italy, at a new centre not far from Venice. That means that this camera is aimed at people who want to accessorise their lifestyles, more than merely snap photos.

Lunar isn't just about show, though. Hasselblad's designs will offer the best performance and image quality in their segments, Hansen said.

"Hasselblad will participate in each photographic segment at the top of each category," he said.

The first extension beyond medium-format models, such as the new Hasselblad H5D and also announced at Photokina, is the Lunar, named for the fact that US astronauts took famous photos from the moon with Hasselblad cameras.

"But we will also launch cameras further in that segment," Hansen said. "We also want to have digital compact cameras — always at the top, always state-of-the-art. It's part of our brand promise."

The Lunar comes with grips made from Italian leather or carbon fibre.
(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

It's a tough market to be in. A high-end handbag or car can be stylish and somewhat practical for years, but digital devices don't have shelf lives much longer than those of bananas these days. A gold-plated, diamond-encrusted phone from five years ago would be an expensive embarrassment in the present age of smartphones.

Hansen is confident that there's an opportunity, though. For one thing, the cameras are high-performance models. "As long as we choose to use top state-of-the-art components, the life is longer than the €100 point-and-shoot," he said.

There's also integration time to take into account, though. Sony's NEX-7 will be a year old by the time next February rolls around.

Hansen doesn't expect the likes of Lunar to stay competitive for 10 years, but 3 years is possible, he said.

It's clear that the new line is fulfilling some of Hansen's older ambitions. When working years ago for another venerable brand, Carl Zeiss, Hansen longed to compete better against Hasselblad with medium-format film cameras, and against Leica — yes, a third historic name in photography — with something more compact.

Now, he's trying again, this time as the leader of Hasselblad. The idea is to reclaim lost customers. Medium-format film cameras were more expensive than conventional 35mm film SLRs, but not that much more. With digital image sensors costing vastly more for larger areas, though, Hasselblad lost all but its professional customer base.

"Fifteen years ago, 65 per cent of our customers were not professionals," Hansen said. They asked him, "'Why don't you bring back a camera for me? Why do you only have professional cameras?' I've always said, 'Just wait, we'll come back with it'. Our goal is to be accessible to all serious photographers and enthusiasts."

For a price tag of more than five times than that of a regular Sony NEX-7, you'd better be serious.

Via CNET.com

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