Is Hasselblad feeling some pressure from the more plebian realm of 35mm SLR cameras?
That's the thought I had when I got a promotional e-mail from the high-end camera maker offering a 31-megapixel H3D-II and an 80mm lens for $17,995--a lower price, the company is eager to note. The tagline of the promotion: "If you thought you couldn't afford a Hasselblad, think again."
Those of you who aren't photographers for Vogue advertisers or astronauts taking snapshots of the moon might not be familiar with the Hasselblad name, but it's a prestigious brand that makes "medium format" cameras. However, like every camera maker, it's navigating choppy waters during the transition from film to digital photography.
For photography, bigger can be better. The larger film area provided by medium-format cameras can outdo the smaller frame size of 35mm film in detail, and some of those advantages carry over to digital sensors.
But with digital, the math is unforgiving: it's not much more expensive to make a large frame of film, but it's a lot more expensive to make a large digital image sensor. Medium-format digital camera technology from Hasselblad, Mamiya, Phase One, and others are costly, and indeed, even the 35mm format is confined to a small, higher-end segment of the SLR business as camera makers moved to sensors that are roughly two-thirds the size.
The H3D-II uses a sensor that's 44x33mm, significantly larger than the 36x24mm of 35mm film but not as large as the 50-megapixel 48x36mm sensor Kodak builds for Hasselblad's top-end camera.
Canon, the leading seller of 35mm SLRs, has its eye on the medium-format market. Its $8,000 top-end 21-megapixel EOS-1Ds Mark III is specifically geared for studio photographers, for example. Sony has committed to full-frame 35mm digital SLRs, with a 24-megapixel model planned for later this year, and Nikon is rumored to have its own high-resolution full-frame rival in the works. (I should have been clearer that I meant a high-resolution Nikon alternative to the EOS-1Ds Mark III; Nikon has offered a lower-resolution though high-sensitivity full-frame model since introducing the D3 in 2007.)
Hasselblad is aware of the threat: "For a little more than high-end 35mm solutions and much less than many competing medium format solutions, you too can begin using the world's most advanced digital camera system," the company said.