Nikon Is the New Hasselblad: That’s Bad

Hasselblad is and was a photography company with a true pedigree, known for making the cameras NASA chose to use on the moon. But in the early 2010s, they seemed to have lost their way. Nikon seems to be in a similar position. Can they turn it around as Hasselblad did?

Style Over Substance

Let’s jump back to 2012 and the announcement of Hasselblad's Lunar. In case you’ve forgotten this odd bit of camera history, it was a Sony NEX-7, but retailed for about 5x the price of the Sony, thanks to the addition of a fancy leather grip. In an interview, Hasselblad’s head of business development stated: “This is a camera for both serious photographers and enthusiasts who aspire to shooting with a Hasselblad.” This was followed up by the announcement of the Stellar, which was leather covered Sony RX100, and later a Hasselblad HV, a restyled Sony A99. Put simply, Hasselblad wasn’t bringing anything new to the table, except maybe some talented leather crafts, all at an exaggerated price point.

This choice to put development and marketing efforts behind a vanity project that didn’t make use of the company’s competitive edge wasn’t a good call. Hasselblad’s more recent effort, with the X system cameras, featuring a new lens mount and Hasselblad-designed lenses, has been more of a success.

I draw the comparison with Nikon’s current situation because the announcement of the Z fc has me worried that Nikon is heading down that same path. I wasn’t a fan of the Df back at the launch, as it struck me as an expensive camera hamstrung by cost-cutting, notable only for its throwback design. Fortunately, that was a one-off… or so I thought.

Plan Z

As a Nikon user, I was very interested in the announcement of the Z system. A new mount, a serious effort at mirrorless, and rave reviews over the initial Z lenses convinced me to buy in. Getting into a new system always involves putting a bit of trust in the company’s promises, and for the most part, Nikon has delivered. The lenses that have been released have continued to uphold the standard, and new body releases have slotted in well. 

Alas, that implicit contract has shown some cracks over the last year or two. The cadence of lens releases has slowed down, with some really noticeable absences still evident, like the lack of a 200mm+ option in Z mount. Meanwhile, the lower end has been just minimally supported, with two basic DX lenses announced and a third overlapping one placed on the roadmap. 

Now, against that backdrop, Nikon has decided to create a retro-styled version of the Z 50 with a firmware update. Just like Hasselblad took a NEX-7 and put some leather on it, it’s looking like Nikon is following the same formula with some silver paint.

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with Nikon building out the lower end of their product stack; in fact, I think it’s really important. Nikon has to find a way to funnel users into the ecosystem and brand, and having a $1,500+ full-frame camera as the lowest option isn’t going to make that happen. Unfortunately, putting some leather on a Z 50 isn’t going to do that either.

Instead, create a model that fits above or below the Z 50. The D3000-series cameras sold in huge volumes for Nikon, while the D7000 and D500 users don’t have a compelling Z APS-C to move over to. When it comes to lenses, there are a lot of directions to go. Users have been eager for a range of compact primes to pair with the lightweight Z bodies, pros are still missing native mount telephotos and fast primes that aren’t one of three 50mm variations. The Z APS-C lens lineup is even more dire than that of the F mount.

The Big Picture

Beyond the specifics of this product or that product line, I’d love to see Nikon better leverage their competitive edge. They make brilliant lenses; all of the reviews of the Z mount lenses have shown that. Most of their existing offerings are an excellent value, at a time when the market has gone crazy with $6,500+ bodies and $2,500+ lenses. 

What happened to the design language of the Z lenses? Is this really just meant to be a one-off for the Z fc?

To return to the Hasselblad example, those rebranded models didn’t work because they lost sight of the fact that a camera is many things, but at its core, it’s a tool for artists. Producing a special edition is fine, but not when it’s taking the place of meaningful development.

Now, with the continued contraction and strengthening competition in the camera market, Nikon has to focus on the product. The high end has seemingly been left wide open, with missing telephotos and only the “announcement of development” of a flagship mirrorless camera presenting a poor visual heading into the Olympics in Tokyo. 

Low-end and DX ranges have continued to experience neglect and the creation of artificial limitations. Nikon, like Canon, continues to believe that the moment users need an advanced feature or lens, they’ll just upgrade right out of DX, EF-S, or M gear. That doesn’t work if you instead consider that these are users who you need advanced features to attract in the first place. If the competition is a very capable cell phone camera, your product has to bring something more to the table. Fewer features, less capable software, and worse options for connectivity aren’t going to make that an easy sell.

The Z fc isn’t inherently a problem. Trying something new, doing a special edition, and taking a risk is all fine; the problem is that this seems to be taking the place of “real work” that needs to get done. Back in March 2021, Nikon’s CFO mentioned that 12 new lenses were to be released in the next 12 months. Since then, we have gotten the development of a few lenses announced, but they’re not “released” in any real sense, and the 105mm that was actually released came with the announcement of significant shipping delays for most buyers.

What makes this all so frustrating as someone watching the industry and using the products is that they are great. I’ve really enjoyed my Z gear, but I’m worried that missteps and a misallocation of resources are going to prevent the vision of the system from being fully realized. Just like Hasselblad returned from the leather-coated wilderness with the X1D, I’m hoping Nikon can navigate a path to consistently releasing the great Z products that photographers and enthusiasts will enjoy shooting.

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80 Comments

Previous comments
Stephen Strangways's picture

The fact that Sigma has single-handedly given APS-C e-mount Sony and m-mount Canon cameras this extremely useful and desirable option is something Nikon needs to pay attention to. Either do the same yourself, or open the Z mount up to them, and let them save their APS-C line.

Gil Aegerter's picture

The number of fast F-mount DX primes that Nikon made in the past two decades?

Want a short, fast tele? The FX 50mm.

Ariel Martini's picture

Lunar price over NEX-7: $5500.
Z-fc price over Z50: $100.
Case closed.

Gil Aegerter's picture

With a better screen, better AF, added funnctionality (analog dials backed up by wheels.

Jim L's picture

Every time I think Fstoppers can't get any worse, something like this comes along.

MAURO STUCCHI's picture

When you want to get a lot of comment on your post, just start one saying Nikon is dead going to bankruptcy soon, bad marketing bla bla bla.
Thats always draw a lot of comments.Thats all they care about.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Oh, look - Another Nikon is doomed article.
Isn't that the type of article a lesser writer would resolve too when his/her lag of skills prohibbet them from coming up with an original idea for an article. Let's write a negative article about Nikon. Thats always draw a lot of comments.

Paul McBride's picture

Alternate Title - fStoppers is the New Jared Polin: That's Bad

Clickbait titles never won anyone any awards for journalistic integrity, and this one is no exception. You claim that Nikon has released no lenses yet this year, when in fact the 28mm will be the 3rd to actually begin delivery since that March announcement. No acknowledgement in any meaningful sense of the fact that pandemic-related supply chain issues are wreaking havoc on all kinds of tech industries. Don't believe me? Just come to my town and look at the car dealerships, where lots that normally hold hundreds of cars for sale now hold dozens, or even fewer.

The Hasselblad comparison is unfortunate and misguided; the two releases have little in common. For one thing, the Nikon release isn't merely a competitor's/partner's camera with a grip being offered for a 5x premium. I guess the (botched) comparison gives a hook into some broader point you're trying to make, but instead of making your point, it exposes your bias.

Look, retro isn't really my thing, but this is sure to be a solid camera in a package that will appeal to a sizeable audience. My guess is that it allows Nikon to make a splashy release/announcement while leveraging existing parts-on-hand and while treading water on some of their new releases that are still being held back.

Keith Jones's picture

Is there any other camera brand that gets shat on more than Nikon on this site?

Lawrence S's picture

Better would be: is there another brand that gets more pageviews and interaction when mentioned in a negative article? If that answer is "no", you have your answer and solution at the same time.

Doug Blake's picture

I am one, and there are others, who are thrilled that finally another mainstream manufacturer has produced a camera that lets manual shooters work with traditional dials. If you dislike dials don’t buy the camera. It is not merely about sentimental retro aesthetics. It is about the way the camera functions. You can still use auto with this camera.
The only other affordable option for this has been Fuji Xtrans cameras.
The new Nikon allows us to use ACR if preferred, not raw converters for Xtrans.
It will allow familiar workflow.
I started with a manual film SLR and moved to a Nikon D700 for digital.
It was a great camera but bulky for a street camera. I was not fond of the relatively large handgrip and menu diving. The files were great.
Based on that experience I think 20 megapixels will be fine for my needs and the cleaner more direct ergonomics will be terrific.
It would be great if they do the same for full frame, but I may very well jump on the Z FC.
I don’t think of cameras as appliances but as tools that appeal to a variety of preferences.
It seems rather pathetic to use this camera announcement as a vehicle to attack a venerable manufacturer.

Igor Sotelo's picture

Not sure why so many like to hate Nikon, and adore Sony, Canon or Fuji.

Fuji sells a lot of retro looking cameras, and their heritage is nothing compared to Nikon.

When Nikon launched the FA it was a retro looking camera with remarkable innovations. By then, the Canon A1 had 5 years on the market and some futuristic features like a rocker.

Launching a retro camera is nothing new for Nikon. The well regarded FM-3a was more than retro camera when launched in 2001.

Nikon then introduced the F6, which was sold till recently. They also made AI-S lenses up to 2021.

They kept innovations in DSLR's with the D850, D780 and D6. Also some new lenses, like the 120-300mm 2.8E.

The Zfc, by it's name it clear that will be a family of products, the next one is probably a full frame Zf.

The Df was very expensive and lambasted by many idiots on internet for not shooting video and for having an "horrible" AF that no one complains in the D610. I own one and it's a fine camera.

Personally, I don't like the APS-C format, otherwise would definitely consider the Zfc.

Nikon always respected their history, so the retro camera was a logical step.

Hasselblad was tremendously affected by the advent of digital photography. Nothing to do with Nikon, Nikon grew a lot with digital photography until cellphones and mirrorless started affecting sales.

And they seem to have adapted fine for mirrorless too. It's still a work in progress, but the lineup of both Z cameras and Z lenses is already solid, except for long telephoto lenses.

I think that Gray's of Westminster YouTube channel is a good resource to learn about Nikon.

George Malczynski's picture

To be fair the Df autofocus was really bad at the price point. I loved the camera and sensor but I had a hard time pulling it out of the bag vs the d750 because I knew I could count on the D750 af. I'm using Sony now but I would buy a FX Zfc if it ever comes out.

Dave Haynie's picture

I wouldn't quite put it that way. The problems with the Chinese Golf Shop Hasselblads were many. They were 3x-5x the price of the comparable Sony, only notvreally, because in each case tgey were based on a previous generation of a Sony camera. Just bad.

I have no problrm with a company producing different variations of canera bodues witg similar or identical guts. I love my Olympus Pen-F, for exampke. And Fujifilm does 4-5 modeks with essentiakky the same sensor, but different body style and features. I don't take that as a problem, or standing in the way of newer technology, because the market is mature, and real new tech just doesn't come at the rate it once did. I also don't have a problrm with being able to grab a small body that does not sacrifice IQ.

Nikon has other problems here. They, like Canon and Sony, are never going to rekease a line of pro lenses for APS- C / DX cameras. So they are still catering to consumers with these.

Doug Blake's picture

I agree with much of what you say but wonder if the Z mount would, in time, allow us to compensate as long as we are willing to part with the cash for the full frame glass.
I would prefer a full frame body but the cash saved could be applied to the glass. Then if a full frame version arrives the glass would work on both, and the Z FC could become a backup body.

Matt Edwards's picture

This is exactly how I have entered the Sony ecosystem. I picked up one of their apsc bodies on a great sale, and so far have bought 2 nice FF lenses. I am very happy with the combo so far, and plan on picking up a FF camera down the road and will already have great lenses for it that can swap back and forth between the bodies.

Of course I am also a big proponent of having "backups", others may not think the same

Matt Edwards's picture

I can't imagine a reason to release a "pro" line of lenses specific for any of the crop sensor segment, because all the pro line FF lenses are already compatible. What would be the point?

Forrest M.'s picture

The point would be to have smaller lighter lenses that are still fast and less expensive. Otherwise, the Zfc would have been better off as a full frame camera. Nikon is trying to have it both ways, which for a casual photographer is frustrating. I upgraded to an FX DSLR so I could shoot my old wide angle Nikkors as they were meant to be shot. Now, if I want to shoot with fast lenses with this new Zfc, I’ll have to buy full frame lenses for a crop sensor camera? No thanks.

Matt Edwards's picture

Fast, small, and cheap lenses are hard to come by with any manufacturer. Pick 2 out of 3 of those qualities and you have options.

Forrest M.'s picture

The 50 1.8 is super cheap and one of sharpest lenses I own. The F mount DX 35 1.8 is dirt cheap and incredible.

Fujifilm seems to have no problem offering 23, 35, and 50 f2s for very little money, formatted for there APS-C sized cameras. Heck, their original 35 1.4 is still a great lens.

I’m not expecting a miracle, but downgrading to a 2.8 42 with no wide or tele options outside a slow zoom or expensive FX lens is a non-starter for me.

John Harris's picture

I believe your comparison of Hasselblad to Nikon to be missjudged. Being a Fujifilm X series user for some time has led me to the understanding that "retro" done well sells.

I believe Nikon have seen an opportunity to capitalise on the success of Fujifilm. Fujifilm has shown from their sales figures during the pandemic that sales were relatively strong in comparison with the other major camera manufacturers.

Hasselblad on the other hand were using their branding and well earned heritage to slap on a camera and completely rip of their loyal customers, (most likely decisions made by a second or third generation family owner who cared more about their bank balance than their customers needs).

Yes the Nikon Zf-c may be similar in nature to the Z50 but to me it looks as though they are marketing this camera at hipster/YouTube content creators and anyone who wishes to reminisce about the Nikon film era who now use digital. By all intents and purposes the specs show this is a decent camera at a very reasonable cost. That's the key point, they are providing features that their customers will use, in a body that is relevant to Nikon's heritage, at the same time not ripping off their customers. Everything that Hasselblad failed to do with their "Lunar" branded Sony.

I would agree that also being a Nikon user the selection of Nikon Z mount lenses are relatively limited at the time but we do know that some interesting and useful lens options are in the pipeline. I myself more or less have the focal range and aperture range I need for now so can't complain too much. Given the world shortage on chips I'm sure things will pick up. Nikon's lens roadmap does provide some reassurance.

Let's be honest, this Nikon Zf-c camera looks really cool and if it brings some profit to Nikon then all the better (which I think it will). At least Nikon aren't repackaging some other third party camera and giving it some insane futuristic, non practical design all whilst charging you 5 times the real value for the privilege. Nikon have created something functional all whilst managing to make it relevant to their past and to their future.

Simon Miller's picture

As a Hass and Nikon user I took interest in this article - but could not agree with much if any of it.

Steven Lippis's picture

Here I thought I was on PetaPixel with the Nikon bashing.

You don't like one particular camera they've announced so Nikon is dead and irrelevant?

This is the first Z camera I've thought I'd like to buy. Would it replace my D500? Not at all. But I have always been a big fan of physical dials over buttons and menus, and I love the Fuji gear.

The downside of the Z system is I'd still have to buy all new lenses so when I change from my F gear it may not necessarily still be with Nikon. If I bought this, then the investment in Z would have begun.

Reading the comments I'm seeing a lot of criticism about the lack of dx lenses in the z range, which is causing me some confusion. Has Nikon crippled the full frame lenses so they won't work on a cropped sensor? Or is this a complete non issue you're grasping at the criticise Nikon?
Kind of like your criticism of the fc?

RT Simon's picture

No. Not long ago Nikon was a depleted brand. They are not the new Hasselblad. What a bunch of bunk.

Lee Saxon's picture

Some fair points here about what the shortcomings of the Z system currently are. Your thesis, though, doesn't work for me:

(1) Either it's a "[restyled] Z50 with a firmware update" OR it's a camera which required such significant development resources that it slowed down the Z9, Z telephotos, etc. It isn't both. Nikon isn't Canon, but they're not THAT small.

(2) Even though it IS pretty much a "[restyled] Z50 with a firmware update," it's still not the Hasselblad Lunar. That camera was literally just an NEX-7 with jewels and leather glued on at a MASSIVE price premium. The Zfc is legitimately an entirely different operational paradigm to the Z50 at a very similar price. Though Nikon is presenting this like a special edition (the lenses especially), this situation is more comparable to Fuji offering similar features in both SLR and Rangefinder type bodies than it is to the Hasselblad Lunar fiasco. In fact, I think we need more body style choices! Even Fuji doesn't get every combination right, and I for one still wish I could've put a D850 sensor in a D5/D6 body type.

Anthony McKee's picture

... sorry Alex, but yet again you deplete any credibility this website has.

Both Nikon and Hasselblad have made numerous legendary cameras in their time and we have all seen countless world changing images captured by these systems. Both brands have also produced a few cameras that we would rather forget (the Nikon EM and the Lunar as examples). To say "Nikon is the new Hasselblad, that's bad" is not only a tragic comment, but reveals a level of ignorance, if not dumb arrogance on your part. Both Hasselblad and Nikon have been innovators in the photography industry for a lot longer than you (or I) have been about, and while they have produced a handful of shockers in their time (the Nikon EM and the Hasselblad Lunar stick in my mind), both brands also continue to produce excellent professional quality cameras to this day.

In a competitive market different brands are going to have their day in the sun. I began using Nikon in the 1980s and I stuck with them even as they were struggling to produce reasonable sensors; nowadays I relish in the IQ I get from the Nikon D850. And while Hasselblad made some poor design and strategy decisions a few years ago, their current range of cameras and lenses are still some of the best on the market. My only wish for Hasselblad is that they started making a true 6x6 format camera again (in the digital format)... then I would be tempted to go back to that format.

As much as I am not likely to rush out and buy the Zfc, I am actually enchanted by this camera and would happily use one. As much as many consumers are driven by substance, a lot a also driven by style and the Zfc has a stack of both.

jim hughes's picture

Nikon is just following Sony in relegating APS-C to an "entry level" line. They apparently feel obligated to have something in this format but their lack of enthusiasm for it is a bit too obvious.

WestEndFoto .'s picture

I don't think that you can equate a totally different ergonomic design to putting leather on a competitor's camera.

I think that the jury will be out on this one for quite a while.

Joachim Elz-Fianda's picture

I bought an used Df some years ago as soon I could afford it because the prices dropped very fast.. It was the smallest full-frame DSLR at that time and fitted in my city photographing bag in the place of the F90X. And it was possible to use some of my rarest lenses from the manual Ai and pre-Ai period. At this time I didn`t need video or Bluetooth or Wlan capacity.
When I saw the new Zfc I had this in idea. but: this is NO full format and has NO AF motor in it and with this big bayonet mount any APS size lens seems ridiculous dwarfish. And of course it is too expensive. I think the prices will drop early too. Hope that Nikon will not outsorce more of its heart of profession to get things cheaper made. My Df was the only Nikon camera which suffered from a shutter blade defect shortly after the end of guarantee period. I had it repaired but that was expensive.
I use Nikon cameras since 40 year but this shutter defect was never on my F2, FA, FM2, F-501, F3 or F90X, even my D3100 after rough use..

Stuart Geddes's picture

I completely disagree with this article and honestly see no real comparison as you suggest. The hasselblad was an overpriced vanity project. The zfc personally i believe is a great move for the lower end of the market and has potential for two fold success for 2 different types of buyers
Type 1: a beginner to immediate photographer that wants an affordable camera. This is the area fuji and olympus have kicked around in and woth what has happened at olympus there is room for this. Particularly the advantage nikon has is brand recognition and marketting compared to fuji and olympus. Here in Australia you cant buy a fuji in a department store you need to go to a dedicated camera shop, but you can sure buy a nikon. For these people this camera will sell and i feel the 16-50 kit is more geared to these buyers. The fact its a z50 realistcally who cares the z50 is a good camera but not that athletically pleasing.
Type 2: the other people i see buying this are established nikon z or dslr users that want a smally retro camera that has compatability with their lenses. How many times have you heard of fuji being bought as a second fun system. This cuts this market and saves having two lens systems with the z mount and thr ftz option. I think the body only and 28mm is targeted at these people. Personally i fit into this group owning a z6 and z lenses.
I think this camera is far from a vanity project and is a great move by nikon in the lower market. Im going to buy a standard black and silver with 28mm when they are available