Our First Take
Hasselblad is a brand with an identity crisis. On the one hand, it's a respected maker of medium-format cameras—one of the oldest names in photography, and a marque that implies quality. On the other, the company has recently developed a habit of taking Sony cameras, covering them in wood and precious materials, and re-releasing them at extreme markup. If you're familiar with luxury phone maker Vertu, Hassy is in the same ballpark.
The high-end manufacturer's latest makeover is the Hasselblad HV (MSRP €8,500 / US$11,500), which encases the brilliant full-frame Sony Alpha SLT-A99 in a stylish two-tone case. It follows on the heels of the Hasselblad Lunar and Stellar, which spruced up the Sony NEX-7 and RX100, respectively.
We were extremely critical of the overwrought and ungainly Lunar, but the Stellar actually toned things down a bit and was all the better for it. So it was with only mild trepidation that we took a walk over to the Hasselblad booth at this year's CP+ trade show in Yokohama, Japan. What we found didn't surprise us in the least.
Design & Usability
A more restrained kind of ostentatiousness
Where the Lunar and Stellar went all out with wood, carbon fiber, Tuscan leather, and other exotic materials, the new HV strikes a much more professional design balance. The bulk of the body is still black, crafted from high-quality metals and rubber. The grip, for instance, is coated with a lovely soft-touch material that's stamped with the iconic Hasselblad "H" to give it texture. It's a tiny little touch, but shows the care the designers used in crafting the exterior appearance.
The top plate of the camera is made from machined aluminum, which Hasselblad claims has "far more qualities" than the magnesium alloy typically used in modern DSLRs. Among those qualities: corrosion resistance, toughness, and durability. The tradeoff, of course, is weight; the HV is exactly the same size as the A99, but weighs about 50g (1.7oz) more. And even though its dimensions aren't any bigger, the HV still has an impression of added bulk thanks to its two-tone color scheme and ornate, scalloped dials.
The A99 is a very comfortable camera to hold, and Hasselblad has done a great job of leaving well enough alone with its version. In some areas it's even improved on the original; we like the HV's grip material and its titanium mode dial better than the A99's.
Hasselblad has also coated the body with a PVD (physical vapor deposition) coating that it claims is second only to diamond in terms of hardness. Combined with the machined aluminum top plate, it gives the HV some extra tough cred—though we can't imagine who would want to actually go on a hike with an $11,500 camera.
As you'd expect, all the buttons and dials are in the same place as they are on the A99, even when the materials differ. The menu system is also 100% Sony, which is a good thing in our opinion.
One of the best cameras on the market, with tasty extras
Hasselblad's PR reps made no bones about the fact that the HV is identical to an A99 on the inside. So as far as actual camera features go... well, these are all known quantities. You get Sony's SLT translucent mirror technology, which blends DSLR and mirrorless-style shooting with admirable results. You get the 24.3-megapixel full-frame sensor, which produces excellent image quality. And you get the same BIONZ processor, which can pump out shots at up to ISO 25,600.
Also present are the A99's phenomenal 2.36-million-dot EVF, full-HD 60p video capability with headphone and mic jacks, 10 fps burst shooting, and sensor-shift image stabilization. Everything you get with an A99, you also get with the HV—and you darn well ought to, since you're paying a nearly $9,000 premium.
But if you've ever spent any time shopping at Hermès, or if you've recently purchased a Porsche 911—and you probably have, if you're thinking about buying this camera—you know that shopping for luxury items isn't just about the items themselves. It's about the whole experience. When you buy a Hasselblad HV, you're not just getting a Sony A99 in a shell; you're getting a whole suite of extras, along with the prestige and pleasure of owning a luxury-for-luxury's-sake product.
To kick things off, you get Hasselblad's high-performance case, which is made from TTX01 resin. The company says it's "more robust and protective against external agents, yet lighter than any other case on the market." According to Hasselblad, the case is impervious to water, dust, shock, and chemical agents, and it can survive in tempertures ranging from -40°C to 80°C.
Inside the case you'll find Sony's excellent 24-70mm f/2.8 Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom, which normally retails for a whopping $2,000 on its own. Also nestled amid the foam padding are a pair of batteries, an 8 GB SanDisk Extreme Pro memory card, and all the other accessories that come standard with the A99 (charger, cables, etc). The case has room for a laptop, and also has extra padded slots for other lenses in your collection.
Like the gorgeous rose petal–filled bag you got with your necklace from Tiffany's, the high-performance case is really an extraneous addition to the workhorse you actually came to buy—but it's still gorgeous.
Too rich for our blood
Like the Lunar and Stellar before it, the Hasselblad HV is a camera for the 0.01%. According to company reps, only 100 units will be produced, and at $11,500 even those might take a while to sell.
As an objet d'art? Well, opinions will vary. The HV is certainly more restrained than previous Hasselblad efforts, but we're not sure restraint is what the crowd who'll coo for this camera are after. There are a few glitzy add-ons, like a ruby-red dot on the power switch and the scalloped mode dial, but for the most part it appears smart, sober, professional. As for us, we think it looks... nice. Not $11,500 nice, but we certainly wouldn't try to get rid of it if someone gave us one.
But then again, we're not really the target market.