DJI’s acquisition of Hasselblad speaks volumes about photography’s aerial future
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DJI + Hasselblad's M600 A5D Aerial Photography Bundle. Image Credit: Hasselblad

DJI + Hasselblad's M600 A5D Aerial Photography Bundle. Image Credit: Hasselblad

DJI went from minority to majority stakeholder in less than two years

The Luminous Landscape reports that DJI, the Chinese commercial UAV maker, has turned its minority stake in Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad into a majority one.

Neither company will confirm any details about the merger, but the resources DJI brings with it are necessary to keep the company moving forward in the digital era.

The merger has apparently been coming along for over a year now. DJI purchased a minority stake in Hasselblad in 2015, which gave it a seat on the board of directors and access to “prosumer” devices to equip its quadcopter drones with. Their first joint effort, the A5D-M600, came out last summer. Ironically, as Peta Pixel notes, the partnership with DJI brings the company back to its formative years when it went from being a profitable Kodak distributor to an advanced manufacturer in its own right by focusing on aerial photography.

Back then, though, this meant a large camera mounted in a crewed plane. Today, UAVs and modular design for photographers are the cutting-edge technology.

With drones, photographers are not as likely to be replaced by full-on autonomous robots as other workers because a human hand is still needed to guide the drone, and then actually take the pictures. A machine cannot make judgement calls about lighting and the feel of the moment, after all. Air access opens up – literally – new vistas for photographers and consumers alike.

Vacationers make extensive use of UAVs, for instance, as do marine photographers catering to environmental, commercial, recreational, and governmental clients. We’re seeing the insurance market catch up across land, air, and sea settings. And a good case study in how the aerial photography business has expanded lately comes from the state of Maine, where the Portland Press Herald reports that even small businesses can find great demand “to photograph football games, inspect power lines or monitor blueberry crops,” among others.

(Real estate, actually, is one of the biggest growth industries, and the A5D-M600 has potential for surveying and mapping as well.)

Legacy

Similar to Kodak, Hasselblad struggled to adjust to digital. It was the company that made the cameras used in the moon landings, but by the early 2000s, it found itself losing money and shedding jobs. “It was impossible to keep Hasselblad alive without digital,” then-CEO Christian Poulsen said in 2005, having actually come over to lead the company from Imacon, which merged with Hasselblad to supply it with digital camera backs that could be mounted onto analog devices. But the company’s solution, to focus on proprietary technology over all else, upset customers and a lot of turnover followed, as recounted over at The Luminous Landscape by Kevin Raber, who broke news of the acquisition this week.

Replica of the NASA Haaselblad device. 12 such cameras remain on the moon. Image Credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

Replica of the NASA Haaselblad device. Twelve such cameras remain on the moon. Image Credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

The company continues to make expensive, super high-end cameras, but in the 2010s has increasingly focused on new models that bring “the medium format to enthusiasts at an affordable price,” according to its current CEO, Perry Oosting, who Raber says got customers to come back with the X1D, and also dropped white elephant projects.

That wasn’t enough to cover the costs and meet the orders that came with the medium format revival, however: “All of our money went into R&D,” Oosting told Forbes, and the company had little cash on hand to do much more. This meant reaching out to deep-pocketed DJI in 2015. Now, DJI is in charge.

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