At the heart of Hasselblad’s technical perfection lies Victor Hasselblad’s passion and drive for producing photographic equipment, pursuing the ambition of helping photographers communicate their own personal visions of life. So it only seems fitting that it was a Hasselblad camera that astronaut Walter Schirra took into space in 1962. Walter had painted the 500C's metal surface black to minimise reflections. Now, celebrating the camera’s fiftieth anniversary, Hasselblad has developed Lunar, an aesthetically and ergonomically beautiful piece of camera art, complete with luxury material options and an evocative vintage look and feel, for photography lovers down here on planet earth. Class of its Own caught up with Luca Alessandrini, the company’s New Business Development Manager, for a chat.
Mark Belane: Lunar is the first product to be released by the company’s new Italian design center in Treviso. Tell us why it is so unique and how it will change both the Hasselblad universe and the photography market.
Luca Alessandrini: I joined Hasselblad in 2011 and I come from the very different professional background of cars and appliances etc. After a meeting in Hong Kong with Larry Hansen, the CEO, we both agreed that this industry follows rules that are totally set apart. All the other markets share one common feature: the customer’s options are virtually unlimited. The only restrictions are related to their personal taste and/or their income. Photography splits its customers into two categories, the professionals and all the others. Our idea was to create a top-quality camera for everyone to use and appreciate. In the seventies and eighties, it was the
mechanical value that made a difference when buying a camera, so it was common to evaluate its manufacturing and aesthetic appeal and pay attention to details like the shutter noise and the solidity of the buttons. It was the same approach as when purchasing a car. After the digital revolution, with the internal sensors replacing the films, electronics took over, with their continual changes, which made it pointless investing in well-made cameras for the mass market in Europe. Now that this trend is slowing down and the megapixels of the medium-high range have reached a steady maximum, there are new possibilities opening up. We decided to
take on the challenge of bringing the traditional Hasselblad quality to a digital camera, focusing on durability.
Lunar can be described as a top electronic object that is extremely versatile, made of precious and resistant materials and dressed in a retro design. It is an upstream product, which is why it is so unique.
Lunar combines lots of different high-tech materials. Can you explain to us how you came up with these solutions?
I am proud to say that we used the best technology available for every single component. The camera front is made of carbon fibre, which is pure resin, indestructible, undyed and stable at any temperature. The compression moulding carbon fibre technique, finalised by the aerospace industry, combines the strength and lightness of the material with the precision and design freedom of injection moulding parts. Traditional aluminium was chosen for the body because of its resistance to corrosion and its durability. The metal is treated with PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition), which makes it harder for high-speed cutting tools, and also provides a bright aesthetic finish. The meticulous selection of materials involved every detail, starting with the controls, made of uncoated titanium, which is potentially everlasting thanks to the metal’s extreme resistance to corrosion. Veneto, the north Italian region where we are located, was essential for obtaining such results as it is the industrial epicentre of the country. We have been collaborating with suppliers who had never worked with photography before. They were asked to push their technological know-how to its limits. Now that we have managed to build such a network, it will be virtually impossible to imitate it.
The decision to open a design centre in Italy is very interesting. Is technology re-discovering the appeal of design?
In a way, yes. It is a question of appreciating the physical contact with the object again, of perceiving the camera as a luxury accessory of one’s lifestyle. Lunar is a pleasant object to hold in your hands. Its ergonomics, its weight and its design all contribute to the experience. Being launched on the 50th anniversary of the 500C camera, the first to go into space in the hands of astronaut Walter Schirra, the starting point of the Lunar design was to pay tribute to the old box-shaped camera. The strict squared lines of the body have been combined with the sinuous curves of the ergonomic handle, which became both a very useful and pleasant feature and the main precious, decorative element. The customer can choose their grip style from a selection of different luxury materials. Lovers of the high-tech look can opt for the carbon one; light and resistant, in three different colour shades: silver, titanium or black. For those who prefer to own a unique product, the Lunar grip is available in natural Italian wood, beech, olive, pear and mahogany, all undyed and with a waxless matt finish. There is also a luxury option that involves the best Italian leather, including the type used for the most exclusive car interiors, in a wide variety of colours. There is also an exclusive made-to-order version, with golden details.
Can you tell us a little about the development process? Was there a collaboration with external experts, such as with professional photographers for example?
This kind of external help is very useful when you are working on a product for the professional market. In this case, a mirrorless camera with the Lunar characteristics simply didn’t exist, apart from in our minds, so we were worried we would receive unhelpful feedback that we couldn’t trust. We decided to develop the project internally. We worked on hand-made wooden prototypes. Our team, which includes me, the president, the designer and the technicians, met every two or three weeks to evaluate the progress. We did not stop until we found the perfect combination of elements that satisfied everyone’s ergonomic needs, especially while using the different kinds of lenses and the viewer. Afterwards, we developed a detailed plywood prototype, and, after a three-dimensional scan, we cut the different components. This will always be our work philosophy, in the purest Hasselblad tradition, just like Viktor Hasselblad, who also developed his cameras using wooden prototypes. Both the Lunar and the 500C models were displayed side by side at the launch of the new camera. In addition to its vintage ergonomic look, Lunar is packed with cutting-edge technology, like the 24.3 APS-C 24.3 megapixel sensor with the BIONZ™ processor.
Would you like to tell us more about the choice of hardware and the collaboration with Sony?
We decided to use an advanced Sony platform, adapting it to the professional photographer world, inside a camera assembled entirely in Sweden, with the Hasselblad know-how, while the external part is entirely made in Italy. We basically combined three beacons of excellence. Sony has been the undisputed leader in the manufacture of electronic components for years now, supplying quality sensors for other photography companies. As Hasselblad represents excellence on the professional market, ours is the perfect partnership. The Japanese company is way ahead of everyone else in terms of technology; its basic hardware is of the highest level. The Lunar sensor is the largest in the compact system camera segment, and larger than most DSLR s on the market, resulting in a much higher image quality, a lower noise and a faster response. Combined with the A type Sony bayonet, which can integrate bigger lenses, the possibilities of this camera are endless.
And what about its software?
In simple terms, I would say that it contains all the best options available in the digital photography segment. Every option is set to be handled both in manual and automatic mode, to combine the best of both worlds. It is very user friendly, so also suitable for amateurs who have previously only experienced compact cameras or mobile phones. Thanks to the quickest BIONZ™ processor available, it has excellent real-time performance, while the average compact camera usually suffers a slight delay in the shot. It has a huge selection of functions, aimed both at the quality of the picture and the entertainment of the user. One of its best features is the low-light mode. Lunar can take 6 to 8 shots in succession to obtain the perfect one. Other interesting ones include the intelligent face registration, which can recognise up to eight faces and focus on them, while adjusting exposure and other settings, or the great sweep panorama mode that automatically takes a series of shots and stitches them together into a hi-res panoramic photo. We basically compiled the best of the compact cameras apps, including thirteen creative styles, fifteen picture effects, eight scene selections, not forgetting an advanced anti-motion blur mode, which improves the quality of shots taken at long zoom. The same manual 18-55 zoom can be appreciated most when filming advanced HD videos, thanks to its userfriendliness. The more expert photographers can opt for the manual mode and set everything by themselves through the various menus and sub-menus, although they will also value the semi-automatic mode as well, just because it can be very entertaining, even to them.
Ultimately, who is Lunar’s target group? Did you concentrate on a particular segment?
I would define it as a cross-over target group. The camera is very versatile, both technologically and aesthetically, so it can meet the tastes of the young and the old, the novice and the photography aficionado. It’s like a luxury car, you choose the one you prefer and you personalise it according to your needs and lifestyle. It should be an object that represents who you are. Of course that has its price, because Lunar is the highest quality product in its segment, which is why it will be distributed through selected luxury boutiques, as well as photography stores.
What will be the next steps in this new phase for Hasselblad?
We have already announced that we are working on a new DSLR, which we will launch towards the end of the year. We are currently developing the prototypes. Following that, there will be a Reflex. Our plan is to cover the top level of each segment. Those cameras will have the highest price in each category, but if you take into account everything you get for the price, the customer will get even more than they would hope to for their money.