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Hasselblad deep-sixing H2 hybrid camera

High-end camera maker is ditching a medium-format hybrid camera that could shoot with either film or a digital sensor.

Hasselblad's now-discontinued H2 medium-format camera. Hasselblad

Hasselblad, a manufacturer of high-end medium-format cameras, is dropping its H2 product line, a move that spotlights the company's transition from film camera roots to its digital future.

The H2 can record images on either film or a digital sensor, but there wasn't sufficient demand for the product, so the company is devoting more resources to its more popular digital-only H3D family, Hasselblad Chief Executive Christian Poulsen said in an announcement to customers Monday.

"We have made a decision to discontinue the H2 camera line," Poulsen said. "Demand simply no longer justifies the dedicated manufacturing line required for its production."

"Medium-format" historically referred to film sizes that are bigger than that of 35mm SLRs; bigger film means higher quality in theory. Although it's technologically harder to make larger image sensors than larger film, the bigger-is-better philosophy has carried over into the digital era.

And as with SLRs, medium-format cameras typically have interchangeable lenses. But unlike SLRs, medium-format film cameras commonly have interchangeable backs, alllowing different film holders or different image sensors to be attached to a film body. Hasselblad's H2 camera could accept either film or digital backs, but the company is continuing only with a film back version that costs less than the H2, the H2F, it announced Thursday and detailed in the Monday customer announcement.

"We feel an obligation to continue to offer a film camera as long as possible, and the H2F is a good compromise that allows us to continue to offer a film alternative, while directing most of our R&D, manufacturing and support efforts to the digital products that photographers tell us they want," Hasselblad said. H1 and H2 support will continue for 10 years from the date of purchase, the company added.

Scrapping the H2 with its digital-back option will let Hasselblad concentrate its resources specifically on the H3D-II, which is available only with a built-in sensor. Its integrated design, rather than the earlier, more modular approach, is the wave of the future, Poulsen said, citing the success of SLR makers Nikon and Canon and moves toward integration by other medium-format manufacturers Sinar, Leaf and Mamiya.

Better photo quality is the reason for an integrated design, Poulsen said. "The best way to do this, as we have stated for years, is in an integrated system where all of the components, from the lens to the capture unit to the software, are designed as a system and are communicating and working together," Poulsen said.

Hasselblad's H3D, an integrated digital-only design. Hasselblad

Canon is among those trying to carve out a bit of Hasselblad's business. It's pitching its 21-megapixel EOS-1Ds Mark III, due to ship in November, at the studio photography users who today are one of the key medium-format customer segments. And Canon's sales pitch has got to have some shooters listening if for no other reason than price.

Canon said its 1Ds Mark III cameras will cost about $8,000. A Hasselblad H2 costs about the same--but adding a Hasselblad digital back adds $28,000 to $38,000 to the price, depending on the model. For the H3D-II line, a 39-megapixel model costs $34,000, a 31-megapixel model $27,000 and a 22-megapixel model $25,000.

The 1Ds Mark III has an image sensor the size of a full frame of 35mm film--36x24mm. That's half the size of a 48x36mm Hasselblad H3D sensor; larger sensors permit pixels to be more sensitive or more numerous. Most digital SLRs come with a smaller sensor, but Canon's main rival, Nikon, just announced its first full-frame SLR, the $5,000 D3, with more to come. So there could be more medium-format competition in the studio market from the traditional full-frame SLR crowd.