Saturday, April 1, 2017

Another Comparison Opportunity

Hasselblad and Fuji have helpfully built for us practically the same camera at the same time, which can provide us some insights into Hasselblad's business.

The Fuji weighs slightly more than the Hasselblad (825 vs. 725 grams) and is about half an inch deeper. The Fuji has better specifications in literally every single dimension than I can identify except for flash sync speed. The bill-of-materials cost of these two cameras is clearly within a few hundred bucks, with the Fuji almost certainly more expensive since it has better displays and a focal plane shutter.

The Hasselblad is about $9000 versus the Fuji's $6500. Ouch. That's a $2500 cliff to climb on the basis of not very much.

I see people saying "I am a professional, and I need the higher flash sync speed to OVERPOWER THE SUN" which is utter nonsense. Actual professionals know how to deal with that, and they know they can buy a whole bunch of scrims and a whole bunch of stands for $2500. And then you've got scrims and stands which could maybe be handy in other places. The reason this is trotted out is because that is literally the only specification in which the 'blad wins.

Then we see the guys saying that they held both and one was "like a Ferrari" while the other was "like a Ford Pinto" which made me laugh a lot. Unless you can actually unpack that a little bit, all you're saying is "I really wanted to own the expensive one" but nobody seems to be able to unpack it. There's some blather about haptics that usually shows up here, but that's just another coded way of saying "I really wanted to own the expensive one."

(The Ferrari comparison is especially hilarious, Ferraris are notorious for being fast maintenance nightmares, in addition to being ridiculously exclusive. One buys a Ferrari not because one wants a good car or even a fast car, one buys a Ferrari because one wants a Ferrari. In fact, Ferrari will not sell you a new car unless you have proved that you're a Ferrari Lover by owning second-hand cars for a while.)

To be sure, there is absolutely no doubt that the Hasselblad feels better in the hands. No question about it. Where that feeling comes from is tricky to comb out, though. Probably H did indeed pay a lot of attention to "haptics" but I'm pretty sure Fuji didn't just wing it. They've built a few cameras in their time, and have a reputation for building gear that fits well in the hand. Even if we grant that H did a better job, there is no doubt that the reputation and price tag play a role in how it feels in the hand. How much would require $15,500 woth of cameras, a 100 gram weight, and a very carefully designed double-blind study, and I'm not seeing that happening any time soon.

Ok, so what's going on here? It's not just that Hasselblad is laughing merrily and pocketing an additional $2500 per camera. In the first place, the retailer is pocketing a good slice of that. In the second place, Hasselblad's manufacturing costs are undoubtedly higher, as well as all the fixed costs. Every X1D sold has to contribute fistful of dollars to the CEO's salary (and everyone else's), the Fuji has to pay a much smaller tax because Fuji is a giant company shipping huge amounts of product of various sorts. The tax for salaries, marketing, service, and so on, are all far more spread out.

Still, how much it costs to make it is irrelevant to the user. The user is interested in how much value can be obtained for the dollar, and in the case of Hasselblad it is clear that the value has almost nothing to do with the actual capabilities of the camera. There is just no way you are not buying less camera for more money.

It's the nameplate, the reputation, that really gets them the $2500 pop.

There is nothing wrong with this. Photography is, for most of us (and for virtually everyone who will buy either of these two devices) a hobby. For these clients it is an absurdly expensive hobby. These people have disposable income, and they're spending it on things they love and want to possess. The differences between "I wish to own a Hasselblad," "I wish to own a nice camera," and "I will have the filet mignon" are extremely small, varying mainly in dollar amounts. All are indulgences which make the buyer happy.

So, understand this: Hasselblad isn't competing on specifications. They are not offering you more camera for more money. They are offering a Hasselblad for more money.

Now that they have clarified their marketing plan, we can pretty much predict that there will be a laser focus of delivering definitively Hasselblad cameras to aficionados, and on enlarging that base of aficionados. The specs will be fine, there will be a lot of megapickles around. There will be a credible effort to stay more or less even, feature-wise, with the market. Beyond that, though, the effort will be to ensure that everyone knows that Hasselblad is the ultimate photography machine.

Well, everyone in China, anyways.


  1. Using a central shutter on the Fuji is pretty straightforward: just mount the adapter for the Hasselblad (Fuji made) lenses.

    This being said, the Hasselblad sure looks nicer and more desirable than the Fuji, just like the Hasselblad V looked nicer and more desirable than the Bronica SQ 30 years ago.

    And while I am on the subject: photography is less absurdly expensive than golf.

  2. Your analysis seems dead on to me. I would also expect to see a return to the idea of the A7x clone now that the X1 has re-established brand credibility and a sensible design template.