July 13, 2016

DJI/Hasselblad Partnership Takes Medium Format Into the Sky

DJI Matrice with the Hasselblad A5D
Hasselblad and DJI release their first collaboration to get larger format imaging into the air.

When drone producers DJI formed a strategic partnership with Hasselblad back in November 2015, there was a lot to be excited about.  Similar to Blackmagic purchasing Da Vinci Resolve, we had a newer company with a strong consumer brand investing in (or outright buying, in Blackmagic’s case) a longtime leader in the high end of the market.  Worst case scenario is the high end player limps along for a few more years than it might have without the consumer cash infusion, but in the best case scenario we see a trickle of high end tech make it down to the consumer marketplace (or, in Resolve’s case, a torrent of high end tech is suddenly affordable to a larger slice of the market).

Today, the partnership released its first bundle:  a combination of the aerial-focused Hasselblad A5D with a DJI MATRICE 600 pro drone.  Frustratingly, the A5D is currently a stills-only camera, a setup which is becoming increasingly rare.  Thus, while today's announcement doesn’t have an immediate impact on filmmaking (outside of some VFX plate work and perhaps detailed scouting),  the first hybrid Hasselblad/DJI product is still great news for filmmakers in that it shows us some hints at what we’re likely to be seeing from the partnership soon.

Hasselblad A5D
The Hasselblad A5D camera, specifically designed for Aerial use, that comes in a just-announced kit with the DJI Matrice 600.Credit: Courtesy of Hasselblad

While drone videography has taken off in the last few years, there have been a few limitations that have prevented it from integrating as fully as possible with current production workflows.  With non-narrative television or events, cutting in between camera formats is par for the course, but narrative filmmakers have traditionally placed more focus on consistent image quality throughout the production, which has often come into conflict with drone use.

The biggest factor has been the small sensor size and fixed lens nature of most drones.  Since both of those factors play heavily into the feel of an image, it has created an environment where drone shots, aside from their often fantastic perspective, don’t fully integrate into the “feel” of the rest of the footage in a project.  It can be frustrating to shoot an entire project with an Alexa and expensive primes, only to have a helicopter or custom drone be out of your budget and have to rely on the imagery of a consumer drone for your aerial needs.  Even with extensive color grading, it’s never really a perfect match.  

As ground-based cinematography ("groundography?" We’re going to need a word for this soon) places more and more emphasis on both larger imagers (Alexa 65, Panavision Digital XL) and high resolutions, the pressure is increasing on aerial cameras to keep up if they are going to want a place at the table.

A big key with the A5D/Matrice 600 combo is the custom-designed, vibration dampening aerial lens mount allowing for interchangeable use of nine of the H system lenses, giving photographers a lens choice that is rare in the drone world.  With the traditional quality of both Hasselblad’s sensor and color processing, and especially their excellent lens design and manufacturing, this is huge.  Hasselblad has been doing film-based aerial cameras for a long time (working with NASA to shoot images on the moon), and their expertise in this area is very exciting to see in a digital platform.

Considering how recently the partnership was inked, it seems likely that we’ll see further development of the collaboration. As videography is such a large portion of DJI’s market, it won’t be too long before we see a large-sensor interchangeable lens drone capable of capturing video footage with the look and feel to intercut well with large format ground footage.  Hasselblad has had 1080p video in some of their cameras for 4 years, after all, so we can be sure they'll put that to work in the sky soon.     

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Considering the price range, which should be around $26K, this is going to be a very niche product. It's not expensive when compared to Hasselblad's other medium format offers.

Biggest advantage I can see is the integrated control which include video downlink, shutter release. It was possible to do photo shooting with medium format cameras such as Hasselblad / Phase One but it needed some trick. They weren't plug&play options.

I like seeing this kind of niche product in the drone industry. This what is needed in the industry. This new Hasselblad A5D will be a very big added value for drone operators if they add this to their fleet.

July 16, 2016 at 8:37AM

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ozkan erden
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