The biggest photography announcement of the week came from Hasselblad. In a move that is being praised by most of the photo community, the storied camera company appointed photographer Ming Thein as its new Chief of Strategy, leaving us all to wonder “what happens now?” PetaPixel sat down with Ming to find out.
PetaPixel: First of all, congratulations on the new position! This is a big deal. Can you tell us how this came about?
Ming Thein: Thank you. A case of right place, right time—I visited HQ in January this year as a quick stop on one of my work trips, had some very positive discussions, and they realized my experience could be useful beyond just brand representation as an ambassador. One thing lead to the next, and next thing I know I’m being given a set of keys and an email address…
You’re a very talented photographer and blogger, but how has your professional background and education prepared you for this position?
I wasn’t always a photographer. In a previous life, I served as senior management for multinational companies in various sectors, headed M&A and private equity teams and had a stint at The Boston Consulting Group; nearly ten years in all. So, beyond the photography—I also have some experience at making the numbers work.
Actually, the label of blogger is the one I have the most trouble with—writing is something I did both with the aim of education and also better understanding why we shoot and how we see. It has never been my primary objective (or even profession; that implies making a living out of it)—it was always photography and image-making first, and still is. But there’s no question that interacting with the audience—something like 100,000 comments in the last five years—has allowed me to build a relationship with the photographic community that reaches quite far.
Do you think other photo companies will follow suit and also appoint photographers in their corporate ranks?
I’m sure the other companies must already have some employees with some level of photographic experience; surely it would be strange if you made a product but didn’t really have anybody who used it in its intended function before releasing it?
Hasselblad went through a few rough years, followed by something of a renaissance. What will be your first order of business as the Chief of Strategy?
To thoroughly investigate and understand the answer to your next question: you can’t make positive changes in direction without knowing exactly where you are now.
What are Hasselblad’s greatest strengths? Weaknesses?
Pending further investigation for the reasons explained in my previous answer—it’s a company with a rich history and focus on making the best—this is important because it defines corporate culture, and that’s the hardest thing to change. It’s a very warm, personal company—in a way that you can put a face to who does what and you can’t with a larger organization. I felt as a customer the team were my friends—this experience is something I would love to extend to even more people.
The core product is solid, and I believe still overall the best quality-focused solution—this is why I personally switched systems last year—which means there’s a good platform to build on. The greatest weakness is probably also the greatest strength: there’s so much more we can still do. And this is true across everything—product-wise, service-wise, pricing-wise.
What kind of impact do you think you can have on those weaknesses (and the company’s direction in general) in your new position?
My role is to provide an alternative point of view biased from the standpoint of the customer and their experience; it’s also to balances wishes and desires with commercial/engineering reality. And, to ask what else can we do? What would a photographer want to have on the wish list?
Moreover: what if we stretched the imagination a bit? Photographic capabilities have evolved, but cameras fundamentally haven’t, meaning it isn’t as easy to deploy all of that potential as it could be.
Former company CEO Perry Oosting said, “we want to attract new customers.” What does Hasselblad have to do in order to become accessible to a broader audience?
One main thing, I think: dispel the myth that medium format equals difficult and inaccessible. Part of it is education, part of it is engineering and design, part of it is product positioning and concept. The X1D was a great start, and has made a clear impact on the industry: it’s the perfect time to take it further.
Are you still going to try out and comment on other camera brands? Are you worried at all about conflicts of interest here?
No, and I said as much on my site announcement: as you rightly point out, it would be a huge conflict of interest. In any case, I’ve reviewed very little equipment over the last year and focused more on the philosophy of how we see and how we shoot. I don’t think it makes sense to review something you don’t use, and buying gear to review is a very poor business proposition.
A clear example of this: I made a huge commitment at the start of last year—before any affiliation with the company—to switch primary system to Hasselblad on the basis of that system fitting my requirements best. If you understand what your creative objectives are, it’s easy to make choices even if they are unconventional, be it me with the H6D-100c for documentary work or Gian Paul Lozza with the X1D for winter action. Sometimes such choices are required to enable something creatively different.
One has to be careful with reviews: every photographer has very different objectives, and bench tests aren’t really representative of actual conditions. The best benchmark for whether a review is applicable to you or not is whether the reviewer is making the kind of images you want to make—otherwise the application is simply too different.
To that end, any thoughts on Fuji’s new mirrorless medium format offering, the GFX 50s?
Competition is good! It keeps us challenged, and opens up the market because more people are now looking at medium format. Each camera has its strengths and weaknesses—there is never a one-size-fits-all. I’ve always encouraged physically handling and shooting with a camera where possible before committing—spec sheets don’t say everything, and the haptics are just as important as the feature sets, if not more so.
Something that’s technically great, but not so comfortable or logical in operation, might not inspire any deep feelings, but a camera that feels great will be something you want to handle and shoot with, and more images will eventually mean better images.
Okay, you know we have to ask. Can you give us any hints at what’s coming up from Hasselblad? No specifics necessarily, just… a hint or two at the direction of the company?
Continued development of the X and H systems, of course, products beyond that… well, you’ll have to wait and see. But I can safely say they’ll be 100% in-house and unique to us. MT
A huge thanks to Ming for taking the time to answer a few questions for us (and for allaying any fears that Hasselblad might start making re-brands again). To follow along with his personal and professional work, be sure to visit and bookmark his website, and give him a follow on Facebook.