Wretched Excess

Hasselblad Lunar and Shoe

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

If you’re reading this the chances are that you’re a photography addict. This addiction takes many forms. Some people collect cameras, some collect lenses, some collect books about photography. Most of us are unabashed about our passions. We share them with others, we go to workshops, conferences, and trade shows, visit web sites such as this one, buy magazines, and chat with our friends about our mutual interest. 

Just as people who have golf, cars, boats, fly fishing and a myriad of other pursuits as our hobbies and passions (not to mention in some cases, professions), we often spend more than our budgets might allow. That’s part of the game. Wanting, that is. Some say that when you stop wanting, you’re probably dead.

For the most part there’s nothing objectionable about this. People are free to spend their money as they wish, and as long as no one is hurt or deprived along the way, who’s to nay-say?

Objet D’ork

Anton Bruckner Edition Leica M6 with Platinum finish and Blue Iguana Skin Leather

But… there exists in the world objects which prey upon our interests and passions. One such object for which I feel particular scorn, is theHasselblad Lunar. Hasselblad is a venerable company that has made some of the world’s best and most desirable cameras for more than half a century. Yes, they have ventured into the land of wretched excess with Ferrari editions and such, but there is a market, particularly in China and Russia, where thenouveau richehave more money than taste. Leica has also been guilty of pandering to this market with offerings like the Anton Bruckner Edition M6 with platinum finish and blue-dyed Iguana skin leather (no joke).

Why Care?

The question that I ask myself, and now you, is –why care? What difference does it make if a company decides to ornament a camera model and then sell it to those lacking in taste for an obscene amount money?

This got me thinking about the phrase “Form follows function”. This was and is a concept associated with industrial design  in the 20th century. The idea is that the shape of an object should be based upon its intended function or purpose. In addition to the raw functionality of an object, specifically a tool, such as a camera, there are concessions and design tropes necessary for both visual appeal and ergonomics. A slippery metal surface, can, for example, be covered with a textured material to improve grip-ability. This can be a synthetic or real leather. But what, I ask, does reticulated ostrich testicle leatheradd to the surface of a camera? The answer is – wretched excess. It andCarpathian Burled Elmwooden grips add little if anything to a camera’s functionality, and primarily serve to stroke the ego of the owner as he or she announces to the world –Look at me!I can afford to ornament my tools with the skin of rare or even endangered species.

Of course as with everything in life there are degrees of excess. It can be hard to know where to draw the line, and one man’s tasteless ornamentation is another’s satisfying aesthetic. But I maintain that among most people with even a modicum of taste, something like the Hasselblad Lunar is a blatant example of wretched excess.

What makes it even more excessive is that none of its goodness lies either on the surfaceorbeneath it. At least something like an anniversary edition M Leica is an already desirable “objet“, with recognized functional merit that is commensurate with at least a significant proportion of its price. Adding unnecessary ornametation may appeal to thenouveau richein emerging countries as a means of bolstering their status, and the rest of us can smile, shake our heads and move along. Leica can laugh all the way to the bank.

But, I maintain that the Hasselblad Lunar has no merit whatsoever at its almost $7,000 price point. Underneath the faux everything exterior ornamentation lies a humble Sony NEX-7; a decent but soon to be superceded two year old camera body currently retailing for about $1,100. Thus the Lunar offers some $6,000 worth of glitz, since none of its ornamentation can be said to increase or enhance functionality.

In the automotive world this is called “pimping your ride“; adding tastless frippery and ornamentation to what is, at its core, a basic utilitarian automobile. What Hasselblad has done is essentially the same thing – pimped an ordinary Sony camera with $6,000 worth of useless and tasteless exterior fluff. I suppose that someone, somewhere will buy one, but I can hardly imagine who. Unlike a gussied-up commemorative Leica, or even a red Ferrari Edition H series Hasselblad, this is, as the saying goes, putting lipstick on a pig (no offence meant to Sony. The NEX-7 is a very nice little piggy). 

Indead the last laugh in this story likely belongs to the Sony Corporation, who get to pawn-off their two year old and soon to be end-of-line cameras to Hasselblad and its unsuspecting customers, without taking any heat themselves. Rather, the heat should be applied to the feet of the venture capital firm that currently own and run Hasselblad. All indications are that they are lost in the product wilderness, having completely run out of ideas for innovation and development of one of the world’s great camera systems.

Rebranding mainstream utilitarian consumer electronics and dressing them up in party finery along with carriage trade pricing is a commercial dead-end proposition. One can only hope that the company’s current management come to their senses before becoming the laughing stock of the whole industry and rendering this once great brand scorned irrelevant.

Author’s Note:

I wrote this screed some time ago, but refrained from publishing it because it felt a bit like kicking a dog while it was down. In my life I have tried to hold an attitude toward people and companies that always offers the benefit of the doubt. But about a week ago Hasselblad dropped the other high-heeled lace-up shoe and announced theStellar, which is last year’s model of the Sony RX100 (a very fine little camera, but now superceeded by the much better RX100II). What does it offer beyond the camera that one can already buy at Kmart?  It has a wooden grip and Hasselblad charge 3X the usual price.

There is now no doubt. The venerable company Hasselblad appears to be completely out of innovative ideas and technologies and so has turned to dressing up other company’s discontinued products and pimping them up for the carriage trade market, likely mostly in Asia.

While not quite as egregious a product offering as the Lunar, this still sticks in my craw, and so I decided to dust off myWretched Excessrant and give it an airing. Agree? Disagree? That’s OK. We all have opinions, and the above is mine. 

Michael Reichmann
July, 2013