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Hasselblad X1D-50C: Communication and Delivery Concerns

See my Hasselblad X1D-50C wish list and Fujifilm GFX wish list.

I’ve been getting some minor pushback from readers about my recent Hasselblad X1D posts, in ways that I feel require some discussion.

First I am very excited to see medium format mirrorless emerge as a category with two players so far (Hasselblad and Fujifilm). I absolutely want Hasselblad to succeed because it is in my interest (very much so, I want to review it ASAP!) and the interest of all photographers: it is critical to have at least two and preferably three players in the medium format mirrorless space. I hope Sony joins in.

This new medium format category puts pressure on SonCaNikon to up their game. It also leaves $8K Leica cameras looking terribly lame and a very poor value.

Hasselblad appears to be in turmoil. Doing some dubious things that at the least require skepticism. And I consider some things much more concerning.

The X1D looks like a very fine camera and system, but unless your money is burning a hole in your pocket, it seems wise to see what pans out in the next few months. I personally would not be an X1D buyer at the present, given what has and is transpiring. That is not a statement that I would not buy an X1D, only that a little wait-and-see is a smart move.

Acquisition?

A company is not acquired unless there is a darn good reason, and the only reason I can think of here is financial difficulty. Therefore an acquisition or major investment could be a Very Good Thing, the alternative being quite unpleasant for any Hassy owner.

Kevin Raber of LuminousLandscape.com is a well informed individual. He claims in Hasselblad Acquired By DJI that Hasselblad has been acquired. If true, this could be a very good thing as it means fresh funds to deliver on promises. But what I find bizarre (and intolerable from a buyer’s perspective) is the lack of official confirmation or denial—very strange. Raber:

Hasselblad still needed to stay afloat. The investors wanted their money and they were not willing to contribute any more to this cause. What now?

Simple, the minority shareholder becomes the majority shareholder. DJI now owns the majority share of Hasselblad. You heard me right. This information has come from numerous, reliable sources. Hasselblad, the iconic Swedish camera company, is now owned by the Chinese drone maker DJI. Sooner or later, this will all become public. Maybe now that I am spilling the beans, it will be sooner rather than later. It seems that everyone inside Hasselblad knows about this, as well as some distributors and resellers. You can’t keep something this big a secret for very long, eventually, it is going to get out.

Howard C writes:

I am a lawyer (as well as a photographer). I primarily represent what are called private equity firms that are essentially in the business of buying companies, holding them for 3-5 years during which time they work to improve their businesses and increase their earnings, and then, ideally, selling them at a profit. The current owner of HB is a private equity firm that acquired HB in 2011. They have owned it for almost 6 years. They want out at the best price they can get.

About six months ago, HB announced a totally ground breaking product, the X1D, the first mirrorless medium format camera. Within a matter of days, HB was flooded with orders…way beyond their estimates. According to HB, the number of preorders within the first 10 days exceeded the estimates of the orders for the entire first year.

Sounds wonderful, right? Well actually, HB was simply not structured to meet that level of demand for a camera. They also lacked the internal capital to finance the purchase of components and the expansion of the production capability. So, where would the money come from? The current owner had no interest in doubling down and putting up the money. They are at the end of the investment cycle. They may also not have more capital to draw on from their investors.

Fortunately, the minority shareholder of HB is a VERY successful high tech company in China by the name of DJI, the wunderkind of the drone industry. It has deep pockets and a totally different set of economic objectives from a private equity firm such as the current/prior owner of HB. The net result is that we have a company that needs capital to execute its business plan, an existing majority owner that wants out, and a minority owner that sees synergistic business opportunities in a takeover of HB and providing a major commitment of capital to HB. A win win win.

The bottom line for a takeover of HB by DJI is that HB is far better positioned to successfully execute its business plan today than it was in the past. This is excellent news. I have minimal concerns about buying into the X1D system, if I otherwise conclude that it meets my photographic needs.

DIGLLOYD: legal reasons are indeed a lawyer’s purview. I write as a photographer, and what matters to me and what I think matters to other photographers. I think it matters. But I completely agree that a major investment and/or buyout may be a terrific plus for Hasselblad customers.

It is totally inappropriate to fault HB for not responding to the rumors about the takeover of HB by DJI at this point. There are a number of legal reasons why the agreement has likely not been finalized and the parties cannot comment on it. The price may not be finalized, there may be governmental clearances required, etc. I am sure that once it is finalized and the parties are free to discuss the change of control, we will hear lots about it from the principals.

DIGLLOYD: legal reasons are a lawyer’s purview, but I write as a photographer, and what matters to me and what I think matters to other photographers, and so whatever the real or rationalized reasons are (we don’t actually know)—they raise FUD for potential buyers—so I think it matters.

Execution and delivery

Reader Howard C sent me this interview from Photokina link. Remember that Photokina is in September, so “next month” means October. Some quotes from Hasselblad:

[Sept 23] Demo units have now started shipping to stores in key countries – US, UK, Germany, Japan, China and others – both to our subsidiaries and some photo independent stores. We’re shipping a few units out every day. End users who pre-ordered at launch should get their camera next month, with 1000’s of people waiting to receive their camera.

So users who ordered cameras received them in October? To my knowledge, exactly zero (0) X1D cameras have been delivered through B&H Photo or any other USA dealer to date—and this is January 2017. This shipping schedule claim is disturbing in light of these facts. To my knowledge, zero cameras were shipped via retail outlets until December and none in the USA to my knowledge. It is all quite fishy, given the statement above. Some users in Europe have apparently received cameras, but it doesn’t change anything that Hasselblad has thrown a few cameras over the wall to keep some credibility. Rather it raises my concern. Let me see a post by Hasselblad ambassador Ming Thein stating that he has received a production camera.

Another quote:

With the 30mm, we now have 3 lenses, which is not much for a system. The three lenses are the same focal lengths as for the XPan camera.

Next year, if all goes well, there will be 5 more lenses added throughout the year. We are very serious about this system. The 5 lenses are already in development. Our lens partner is Nitto, and they are very busy with Hasselblad lenses. We agree the focal length and aperture in discussion with Nitto, working very tightly together. They are a very traditional Japanese company who are very friendly.

We cannot disclose what the 5 lenses are yet, but they complement the existing ones. We don’t normally have a public lens roadmap, as future products might not be realized, and a roadmap might put buyers off our current products.

Translation: “we have announced five lenses, but they might never ship, their delivery status being so tenuous that we are not willing to commit. Seriously.”. Well, I’m not a fan of evasive PR puff interviews. I smell fish, and not fresh trout.

Howard C writes:

All the X1D system has in common with the GFX is that they are both mirrorless systems using the same Sony cropped medium format sensor.

However, the execution is totally different. The Fuji system looks and feels sort of like a Chrysler minivan, and the X1D like a Porsche 911. The Fuji will be more versatile in some ways. An articulating LCD, a removable viewfinder that can be articulated, lots of physical dials and buttons.

The X1D is the most elegantly designed camera that I have ever handled. Everyone who has handled one has been blown away by the fit and finish, the form factor, and the elegant simplicity of the interface. I am absolutely sure that both systems will be capable of high end image quality. HB has lots of experience with the Sony 50MP sensor. There is no reason to believe that the IQ will not be equal to the H6D50. It therefore comes down to the lenses and the physical differences in the cameras. There are tradeoffs, and different people will have different priorities.

DIGLLOYD: not having handled an X1D personally, I cannot yet comment. I will say that the paucity of buttons has always proven to be a hassle, and that a rear LCD with touchscreen is a non-starter for me—presbyopia at dusk, dirty or sunscreen-coated fingers, etc. One man’s elegance is another’s frustration, and last year I had to rent a Chrysler minivan, and its build quality was sh*t but dang did it do the job nicely for what I needed it for—well, my Cayenne was broken and I agree it is far nicer, so interesting out of the blue analogy.

It will be interesting to see what both cameras actually feel like. And ultimately if there are certain problems that interfere with making images under some conditions, that can be paramount. It will be fun to see them both.

Brian K writes:

Interesting read on the differences between the Hassy and Fuji mirrorless cameras. I can’t help think of what I was told by a service technician working on my then problematic Imacon scanner, “it was built for dentists”. It seems that there are cameras or equipment built for possibly heavy use or even rough use, and gear designed for hobbyists with the financial means to buy very elegant but possibly less practical gear.

When I was an advertising photographer, when it came to 35mm, there was pretty much just two choices. Nikon or Canon. Both cameras had vast supporting systems, and one could easily find accessories or repairs in many locations world wide. Leica for all it’s quality just wasn’t practical as an SLR for a working pro. (Obviously for rangefinder users it’s a different story as Leica is unique there) It was a boutique camera not a tool.

As a professional I would not even remotely consider the new Hassy unless they had a firm announcement and firm delivery dates on a complete series of lenses. Just 3 lenses can be very limiting to a professional and this system is not a cheap investment. I don’t see many pros adopting it, maybe if it survives for 5 more years and the range of lenses is increased enormously, but I think it’s just another boutique camera that will only find a home with hobbyists which the means to afford it. Sad though, if Hasselblad had the financial resources to really put behind this camera it could be successful.

Fuji on the other hand can build an elaborate system. As demonstrated by the Fuji GX680III system (50mm, 65mm, 80mm, 100mm, 125mm 135mm, 150mm, 180mm, 210mm, 250mm, 300mm, 500mm, lenses and a zoom AND a soft focus lens) Now that’s a system! And if Fuji is viewing this as their pro MF digital camera system why would they not continue with their past philosophy?

I think we’re seeing the end days of Hasselblad.

DIGLLOYD: I completely agree on the “firm” comment, and yet if the investment/buyout is true, then it is likely the salvation of Hasselblad and promises to meet those requirements, given a little time.

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