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The IKEA of camera manufacturers ?

in Hasselblad XPan , Friday, November 07, 2003

During the last 4-5 months, I have been having an ongoing battle with the venerable Hasselblad, a company which I always assumed took pride in customer service. Rather than repeat everything, here below is a letter I sent to them via their customer service web site. Almost needless to say I never received an answer (but see the PS at the end).

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Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to express my strong disappointment following my current experience with your after sales service. I own a Hasselblad XPan, with the full set of lenses, as well as Hasselblad V system and ArcBody equipment. I believe that my investment in Hasselblad brings me quality, long term value for money, and above all reliable and professional after sales support. This belief motivates my current intention to invest in the H System, although, as you will be able to understand from the following, this intention is currently very much on hold.

In May of this year I noticed that there were what appeared to be a few pale specks of dust behind the front element of my XPan 30mm lens. I took it to my local Hasselblad agent (Photo Catena, Lugano, Switzerland) for inspection, and they sent it to the Swiss distributors for Hasselblad, Leica Switzerland. A few weeks later I was informed that Leica Switzerland could not carry out any inspection or repair and would have to send it to Sweden. I was also told that the estimated time would be 8 weeks, which was a first surprise. After enquiring with Leica, I was told that this unusual delay was due to the relocation of Hasselblad’s factory in Sweden, and that they had been informed, by Hasselblad Sweden, that the expected return date would be in the first week of August.

By mid-September I had heard nothing, and repeated queries to my dealer and to Leica Switzerland were without result. Finally, after some persistence, I got a call from Herr Bachmann, Mareketing Director for Leica Switzerland, who informed me that he had finally received a report and repair estimate – not from Hasselblad, but from Fuji. It seems that the lens was returned to Japan for servicing. The estimate, with few details, save that apparently one or more lens elements needs replacing, is for 700 Euro exclusive of handling charges or taxes [NOTE - this would put the cost to me at _well_ over 1000 Euro] . All concerned – Leica, Photo Catena and of course myself have expressed surprise at the high cost and inexplicable delay of this estimate. Apparently this is the final word from yourselves at Hasselblad – no explanation, no reason, no negotiation. Leica Switzerland, clearly embarrassed by this situation, have made a generous offer to share the cost and to drop handling charges. Before I respond to this offer, I would like Hasselblad’s views and answers to some specific questions:

• It is not a secret that the Xpan is a rebadged Fuji camera, which has benefited from some Hasselblad design input. However, it is marketed and sold by Hasselblad in Europe, to the specific exclusion of Fuji’s version, and all warranties, documentation, service agent list and packaging is Hasselblad branded. It is of no concern to me what business partnerships you enter into, but I have in good faith purchased a Hasselblad product and I expect to be able to deal with Hasselblad after sales, not Fuji.

• I am curious to know what method of transport you use to ferry materials between your Japanese suppliers and your factory. It is difficult to understand how it can take 5 months to send a lens to Japan.

• My 30mm lens has been well used – I am a photographer, not a collector. However it has also been very well cared for, along with the 45mm and 90mm I own. Regardless that you offer only a 1 year warranty on a 2000 Euro lens, I would like to understand how foreign bodies can penetrate a Hasselblad / Fujinon – designed professional quality lens, other than through a design or manufacturing defect. There has been no question of negligence on my part, and there is no sign of poor treatment from visual inspection of the lens.

• Finally, if this is how Hasselblad is handling its joint ventures with Fuji, could you please explain what grounds I might have to have any confidence in buying a complex and expensive system like the H1 ?

I am frankly more surprised than anything else by this episode. Perhaps you can reassure me that you still take customer care seriously, and still intend to provide the standard of service your name is associated with. I am not expecting to bear zero charges for work I ask you to do. However, I am expecting to be dealt with more quickly, more explicitly, and in this case to receive a convincing explanation of why you believe that this lens defect should be acceptable.

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PS. A few days ago, the director of marketing at Leica Switzerland called me to make a new offer: an exchange 30mm lens for 800 Sfr. Whilst he continued to express his dismay at Hasselblad's attitude, he recommended that I accept this as a compromise. I agreed with him - I want the lens back, because regardless of all this, it is a fantastic tool. It arrived next day.

PPS. And finally, I learned yesterday of another customer at Photo Catena, who dropped and badly damaged his 4 month old Leica Noctilux f1.0 lens. This, apparently, despite being clearly a non-warranty issue, was repaired free of charge by Leica Switzerland and is as good as new. Makes you think....

Living dangerously

As David Gilmour once put it, "thinking we're getting older and wiser, when we're just getting old".

This could apply to the illogical semi-annual process by which we spend a lot of money to make perfect good software work by "upgrading" it. Normally it all ends in tears, and takes 6 months to sort out, which leaves 6 months to forget the experience just in time for the Next Must Have.

Well last night I really went to town: I upgraded my Mac G4 workstation to OS X 10.3 (Panther), having first very very carefully applied firmware patches to my FireWire drives, and I upgraded Photoshop 7 to Photoshop CS. Finally I installed the Panther version of ImagePrint.

Amazingly it all worked, and even more amazingly it seems it was worth it.

I had already been using Panther on my G4 PowerBook for a week, and also upgraded by very non-critical Cube first as well. In that context I am disappointed with Panther - the collaboration features with Windows networks fall well short of my expectations, although careful reading of the fine print reveals that Apple delivered what they said they would.

But otherwise, Panther delivers the first really noticeable speed boost I've seen in OS X. It really seems about 25% faster. But the really big deal is Photoshop CS. This upgrade has got more new and really useful features than I think I've seen since layers were introduced waaaaay back in v3.0 (or was it 4?). Greatly enhanced 16-bit functionality would be enough in itself, but the new browser, the new Photo filters, filter layers, performance improvements and much more all make this really good value for money.

Adobe really has been working hard - InDesign CS is an equally valuable upgrade - the performance improvements here are staggering - especially in document scrolling.

However there was one little thing that struck me.... in order to apply FireWire firmware upgrades I had to boot in OS 9.2 .... and I was amazed by how fast it is. Of course I didn't experience a good old MacOS crash or try to do 2 things at once, but still....

Still bemused by pixels

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, October 16, 2003

So anyway over the last months, with the release of the EOS 300D, the Pentax *ist D, and various others, I have been absorbing information, reviews and opinions like a sponge. I'm very taken with the Olympus E-1, but it has drawbacks. I looked at an EOS 300D, but there are some issues. I tried out an EOS 10S, then realised Canon doesn't yet make any really suitable lenses for it (in subjective terms of range, price and quality). And so on. I also note that well known landscape photographers, who's level I basically aspire to, such as David Noton or Michael Reichmann, are either staying with film (Noton) or moving up to astronomically priced (for a non-pro) medium format digital systems.

I wonder why...

Maybe it's because the current range of "35mm" digital SLRs are simply not suitable, with the expensive exception of the Canon EOS 1Ds, for landscape photography. The "keyhole" viewfinders restrict the ability to focus manually and preview depth of field and the effective focal length magnification factor of smaller sensors restricts the potential for wide angle photography.

It seems that my personal needs and constraints are not yet met by digital SLRs on the market. So I'll just have to put up with waiting 4 days for processing, followed by endless scanning, for a while yet.

Digital mania

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Oh dear, my contribution rate has already dropped off... but since nobody is actually reading this it doesn't really matter!

The photography world has been abuzz with talk about the latest Canon digital SLR, the 300D. This could be what the world (well ok, photographers) has been waiting for - a (relatively) cheap and very high quality, changeable lens digital SLR camera, devolved from the more expensive but highly rate 10D. Seems like it should clean up, or at least kill off a lot of the more expensive all-in-one cameras, with their small sensors, awful viewfinders, and crazy shelf-life. It might even kill the new Olympus E-1 and Pentax *ist Digital before they get into the shops. But the gadget factor on the 300D is pretty low. No movie mode! Heavens. (although why not, finally...) No image manipulation gimmicks! No sepia mode! Just a solid little camera with a sensor that delivers results as good as the best 35mm film. Will I get one ? Probably not. I've already got good 35mm film equipment, so in terms of absolute quality it isn't much of a step up. And whilst the camera is cheap (ok, "cheap"), the better lenses certainly are not. For me, a step up would be a medium format 645 system, which, one day, I might be able to afford a digital back for. It seems to be becoming an interesting choice. Unless of course next month Canon releases a full frame DSLR at $1000... they will one day. So, time to take a step back and think, what will make my photos better ? The unwelcome answer is of course, hard work and dedication. Not shopping :-)

Photography Magazines (part 2)

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I couldn't resist a quick extra rant on the topic of poor reviews in magazines when I saw the latest issue of Practical Photography (UK).
This issue reviews the Kodak DCS Pro 14n, a camera that has had mixed reviews in general (and I'm being polite). PP do not appear to particularly mind that a camera listed at £4224 has a viewfinder you can't even get your eye up to - the "Handling" score, with the comment "The main camera controls are there, but there are plenty of niggles", is 86%! How many "niggles" do you need to reach 70% - or even 50% ? How bad a camera would plumb such depths ? At least the main controls are there - hey, for £4000+ I would tend to expect them to pretty well glued on too! Image Quality..."Superb from the RAW files at low ISOs, less impressive from the JPEGs" - this is worth 93%! I suppose a Canon EOS 1Ds would get 150% then ? I could go on (and on), but the total score for a camera which is generally reckoned by informed experts to be just a few feathers short of a turkey is 88%. One note though: the article repeatedly states that the 14n was designed for portrait and wedding photographers (good thing they don't need viewfinders..do they?). This seemed suspicious, so I checked on Kodak's web site. Indeed, Kodak do say this (actually they say exactly what PP say, demonstrating PP's skill with Cut & Paste). I digged further and found that they were saying this back before launch too. So, in this context, scathing comments in certain wildlife / landscape oriented reviews were maybe a bit unfair too.
However, as for PP - I could get over it if it was an isolated case, but in the very same issue we are presented with a two page review of the Rollei 35MF rangefinder. Not once -despite picking on the price as a weak point - do they point out the fundamental fact that this overpriced vanity object is nothing other than a badged engineered Cosina, er, sorry, Voigtlander.



Frankly I find this reporting irresponsible at best and dishonest at worst. Practical Photography is actually one of the best photographer magazines in the English language, with great columnists such as David Noton and Andy Rouse, but their so-called reviews do them a serious discredit and are cynically disregarding of their readers.

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