“We don’t know how exactly DXO tests, but the Nikon D850 was tested the week before us and set a record score,” says Ove Bengtsson, longtime head of Hasselblad product development. “Our X1D then scored several points higher, probably for image quality and ergonomics.” Hasselblad now has legitimate claim to the title of world’s finest camera maker. DXO, an independent European testing organization, gave the 50-megapixel X1D field camera its highest rating ever, higher even than Hasselblad’s own H6D-50c studio camera, a less wieldy piece of equipment that shared its Hasselblad-designed touchscreen system, post-imaging software, and sensor with X1D. “X1D is not a sports camera, but image quality is unbeatable, except for our 100-megapixel H6D. All in a package that is smaller than a DSLR.”
“Initial orders were overwhelming and we had to rethink how to make it,” says Bengtsson. “We got orders for 1500 cameras in ten days.” X1D brought the existential threat of too much success to the door of a little company that has struggled for two decades.
“This has been a turning point for us, absolutely, with numbers we have not seen in years. We don’t have X1D stock at the moment. I’m not in the finance area, but compared to what we sold before, this is five, six times more,” says Bengtsson, who is sitting with me in the lobby of Hasselblad headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, a few hours after a bleak mid-afternoon winter sunset. On the walls surrounding us are five-foot-tall prints of iconic images taken with Hasselblad’s seminal 500 film camera: Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, moonscapes shot by Apollo astronauts. Mixed among them is art photography from the digital era, images created by Hasselblad Ambassadors.
“We did not want to jeopardize quality just to produce X1Ds quicker,” Bengtsson continues. “That would not be Hasselblad. But people were starting to get impatient. Some were questioning if we would really make it [the X1D] or not.” It took six months to ramp up, but production eventually harmonized with demand.
Lightning bolt that it is, X1D and its studio brother the H6D captured the attention of Chinese drone manufacturer DJI, and the two companies formed a technical and financial partnership. The resulting mix of cultures forced change in a compressed timeframe. CEO Perry Oosting, the luxury goods marketer who fomented Hasselblad’s renaissance, who encouraged the best of Bengtsson to create a new family of digital cameras that are true to the legacy of founder Victor Hasselblad, left for the Parisian fashion house Robert Clergerie.
“The first engineering collaboration between us was the DJI Matrice 600 drone paired with a medium-format, 100-megapixel Hasselblad A6D-100c aerial camera,” says Bronius Rudnickas, Hasselblad’s head of marketing who served as Oosting’s understudy. “DJI is a strategic partner, a minority stakeholder, not a sole owner. The native DJI apps are used to control the A6D—ISO changes, shutter speeds, apertures and LiveView. The design was an exciting way to begin working together. Right out of the gate, DJI and Hasselblad created the most powerful drone configuration for high-end aerial photography currently available on the market,” says Rudnickas. The Chinese may be a minority stakeholder, but their appetite for aerial cameras is reshaping Hasselblad for the better.
“DJI’s capital investment obviously opens new avenues for Hasselblad. Thanks to DJI, our timeline for new designs and product development is much more efficient. Hasselblad will be exploring ways of aligning our systems and collective expertise in ways that will make for exciting future products.” Expect product announcements throughout 2018, with expansions of the H6D and X1D product lines, perhaps including cameras at price points below X1D to broaden the market. By year’s end there will be twice as many lenses available for X1D.
“This is an X1D, and obviously, there will be an X2, X3, an X4 in the future,” says Bengtsson. “With X1D we have already had quite a few firmware updates that add functionality. We have listened to what the customers want. You just download a file, put it on your memory card, and click. We send notifications of updates.” The Japanese rarely have more than one such update to expand functionality.
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