Why Hasselblad Cameras Are So Expensive
Narrator: Do you recognize this photo? What about these? They were all taken with a Hasselblad camera. It’s a name every photographer knows. But if you wanted to buy this Hasselblad camera, you’d need over $30,000. And that doesn’t even include the lens. So why would anyone pay so much for a camera? And what makes Hasselblads so expensive?
To understand why people love Hasselblad cameras, it helps to look at this image. If you zoom way in, you can see incredible detail. The photos are fantastic, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Hasselblad has been making cameras for 80 years, but they weren’t always this expensive. In 1948, Hasselblad’s first consumer camera cost around $500, or about $5,900 today. And, adjusted for inflation, its film cameras from the ‘70s cost around $5,300. But when the company transitioned to digital, the price exploded. In 2004, Hasselblad’s first digital camera sold for around $24,000. That was more than a 200% price increase from its previous model, which used film.
OK, so it’s expensive. But what actually makes this camera different?
Hasselblad’s high-end cameras consist of three main parts, the digital back, the body, and the lens. Just the digital back, which includes the sensor, costs over $26,000.
Bronius Rudnickas: The Hasselblad sensor is unique in a way that it’s much larger in area. The individual pixel is bigger, and that provides a lower noise and wider dynamic range.
Narrator: Take a look at this photo of a motorcycle. When you zoom in, you can clearly see the texture of the handle and the wear on its tires. Larger sensors capture more detail, and Hasselblad’s is one of the biggest available. Its cameras are what’s called medium format. Basically, it means the sensor is big, and it’s what makes these cameras so expensive. Your smartphone camera sensor is around this big. A popular professional camera, like the Sony A7R, is much larger. But it looks tiny compared to Hasselblad’s sensor.
Bronius Rudnickas: When medium-format technology transitioned from analog to digital, the medium-format sensors became extremely expensive and the camera systems became extremely expensive and very niche.
Narrator: The sensor in this camera is actually made by Sony, but Hasselblad has its own proprietary calibration process to achieve the colors and image quality it wants.
Bronius Rudnickas: It’s very useful for the skin tones or the reproduction of the artwork, so on…where you really need to make sure that the colors you have in real life are the ones that will end up later in the photographs.
Narrator: Medium-format cameras are mainly used for product and fashion photography as well as art reproduction. Photographers who need this type of specialized technology can’t use off-the-shelf consumer cameras. And these shoots usually take place in a studio, where the camera’s bulky size isn’t an issue.
But there’s another factor that makes Hasselblad cameras unique. Unlike other companies, Hasselblad doesn’t mass-produce its cameras. It makes them in small batches assembled by hand. This is partly because Hasselblad doesn’t make that many cameras. Hasselblad doesn’t disclose exactly how many cameras it makes, but in 2018, The Verge reported that Hasselblad’s yearly production was under 10,000 units. Other manufacturers, like Canon, produce millions of cameras each year. But this process also ensures that each camera meets Hasselblad’s quality standards.
Vevian Gorges: Here in production, we have people that work here for over 30 years. And for special tasks, we have people that, they just do that task. Nobody else can do that.
Narrator: Hasselblad assembles its cameras here, in Gothenburg, Sweden. Remember this old photo? Production today looks pretty similar. Its facility is more like a lab than an assembly line. Here, each component is tested, connected, and soldered.
But learning how to adjust each part isn’t easy. Assemblers rely on both precise instruments and the sound and feel of each component to know that it’s working properly.
Vevian Gorges: My favorite part is the mirror assembly, this part. I know that’s not working well because of the click. You have to work here maybe, just assembling these parts, maybe months until you’re capable of making it right.
Narrator: When you charge $30,000 for a camera, quality control is a top priority. And assemblers take their job very seriously.
Vevian Gorges: The whole process requires a lot of patience. You will end up learning to be very careful while mounting these tiny parts. Otherwise, you will run into different issues afterwards while testing the camera.
Narrator: Assemblers complete a camera in around six to eight hours. But calibration can take up to a third of that time.
Bronius Rudnickas: What’s unique about Hasselblad cameras is that each sensor is individually calibrated and tested to a single pixel level, which is very time-consuming and quite unique in this industry.
Narrator: But pressure to deliver consumer-focused cameras has increased. In the past few years, Hasselblad has released more affordable cameras, around $6,000. These cameras have a smaller sensor compared to other more expensive models. But competition in this price range is steep. Sony’s latest Alpha 1 camera costs a bit more, but it can shoot 8K video and has superfast autofocus. And while the sensors on cheaper cameras aren’t as large, those cameras pack more features that appeal to a wide range of photographers. Hasselblad says that it’s working to introduce more entry-level medium-format cameras, but that it will continue to support its high-end customers.
And for many photographers who need uncompromising image quality, this Hasselblad continues to be worth the price.