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Hasselblad's $48,000 digital camera isn't for selfies or Instagram shots, but is 'future-proof' in its own way

Key Points
  • Hasselblad's H6D-400c costs a small fortune, and isn't used in the way most consumers employ smartphone cameras.
  • The $48,000 device is a staple among cultural institutions that need to archive photos, or luxury product sellers who want subtleties reflected in photos and marketing.
The Hasselblad H6D-400c MS
Source: Hasselblad

Consumers routinely pay hundreds of dollars (or $1000 at the top end) for smartphones with increasingly advanced photo capabilities.

So is $48,000 for a digital camera asking too much?

Sweden-based Hasselblad, the maker of luxury cameras that easily cost four figures, doesn't believe so. The latest iteration of its multi-shot camera, called the H6D-400c MS, employs technology that produces extremely detailed 400 megapixel (MP) images. The photo quality of the H6D-400c has sparked rave reviews among hard-core camera aficionados. By comparison, a high-end iPhone 8 or X – which boast high resolution photos – captures 12 MP shots.

Still, the H6D-400c isn't really designed with the mass market consumer in mind. Rather than selfies, Instagrammable food shots or leisure photos, Hasselblad representatives told CNBC the ultra high-end camera has a special niche market with cultural institutions. Museums, libraries and other organizations need cameras that capture high-quality images to archive priceless manuscripts, works of art and jewelry.

All of which raises the question of why any photography professional – or amateur shutterbugs with deep pockets, for that matter – would find a need to pay a small fortune for a camera, particularly in a world where tech-savvy smartphones seem to be cannibalizing high-end cameras.

The dire state of the digital market would suggest that consumers are turning to their smartphones instead of pricey lenses. According to recent figures from the Camera & Imaging Products Association, worldwide digital camera shipments are down more than 20 percent in January through July of this year versus the comparable time frame in 2017.

With Apple's latest lineup of iPhones set to be revealed this week, CNBC recently reached out to Hasselblad to discuss how the company intends to "future proof" its line of high-end cameras. Below are excerpts from that exchange:

Image quality is the answer

An image created with a Hasselblad H6D-400c MS
Source: Hasselblad

The H6D-400c MS "is designed for professional photographers and institutions that absolutely need to capture every finite detail of a certain object, piece of fine art, or anything where incredible image quality is critical," Gunther Egger, an Austrian photographer who works with a Hasselblad, told CNBC.

When trying to sell luxury products with extremely subtle features, "image quality is the answer," Egger said in an email. "It is paramount when the difference between something extraordinary versus quite common is found in the small, delicate details. This is the camera that astutely realizes those differences….The H6D-400c MS picks up things that the human eye sometimes doesn't even register like real color, reflections, and captures every incredibly tiny detail."

A Picasso or Rembrandt can be worth a thousand words

A Rembrandt taken with the Hasselblad H6D-400c MS
Source: Hasselblad

Dan Wang, a product manager at Hasselblad Americas, told CNBC in a recent interview that even as smartphone cameras grow more sophisticated, the H6D-400c is "future proof" — especially because of the way they're used. He said some of the "finest" cultural institutions in the world use it to archive material but declined to mention which ones, citing privacy concerns.

"The H6D-400c MS is a particularly impressive tool when it comes to preserving antiquities of all kinds," Wang wrote in an email to CNBC. "Museums have centuries-old pieces that need to be preserved in their current state, but one needs to have a reference point to preserve anything. Complex textures and surfaces can be very hard to capture. A camera like the H6D-400c MS provides that capability though and produces those essential images with the most intricate details."

What's special about a 400 MP camera?

Egger said the new Hasselblad "renders the highest-possible image quality and most accurate color in the medium-format category. From a technical standpoint, this means the camera produces some of the most technologically advanced images ever made with each shot."

The camera's multi-shot technology renders colors more vividly, and in much larger file sizes than traditional shots. That means photo subjects are captured in the minutest of detail. "That sort of versatility offers amazing freedom to a photographer," he explained.

Like an antique watch or a vintage car

The Hasselblad X1D digital camera
Javier David | CNBC

Unlike the latest Samsung Galaxy or iPhone, a Hasselblad camera isn't something you recycle when the latest version hits the shelves, its boosters argue.

"Hasselblad cameras are quite amazing in that many photographers still own vintage Hasselblad cameras from several decades ago," Egger said, adding that he still owns one he purchased in 1996. Plus, the company constantly updates the software used in its cameras, helping it to withstand the vagaries of time and technology.

Hasselblad shots "endure as the best imaging solutions at that moment in time. One doesn't throw away a beautifully designed watch or car simply because a new version is available," Egger told CNBC.

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