The Aerial Reconnaissance Camera
Victor Hasselblad had dreamed of making a small, high-quality camera; a camera he could take into the field and use to photograph birds. Sketches had already been made when the Swedish Air Force contacted him in 1940 wondering if he could replicate a reconnaissance camera that had been discovered in a shot-down German aircraft. It is said that Victor answered, “No, I cannot, but I can make you a better one.” He received the commission and one year later the camera was ready. On 29 April, Hasselblad could confirm the order of two prototype cameras.
The Civilian Camera
With the end of WWII, production of the military camera ceased and Hasselblad turned to making a civilian camera. It needed to be flexible with interchangeable components and no bigger than was suited to Victor Hasselblad’s own hands.
In 1948, Victor Hasselblad travelled to New York and presented at a press conference the very first Hasselblad camera for civilian use. It was the world’s first single lens mirror reflex camera in the medium format (6×6 cm) with interchangeable lenses, film magazines and viewfinders.
The foremost photojournalists in the US were at the presentation. The Hasselblad camera was a sensation. Professional photographers worldwide stood in line to buy the new camera. Photographer Ansel Adams got in touch and offered to test the camera for Hasselblad. For many years, he provided valuable insights about the camera’s design and performance.
The camera has been improved and refined many times. The modular-based concept has proven easy to develop and even though the camera’s inner workings have changed radically, the outside has been preserved, so even the modern digital cameras are easily identifiable as Hasselblad cameras. It is even possible to put a digital back on the older analogue models.
Collaboration with NASA
In 1957, the Hasselblad 500C entered the market. This was a model of exceptional quality. It was also the camera that astronaut Wally Schirra, on his own initiative, introduced to NASA and took in the Mercury capsule Sigma 7 in 1962. NASA would later use a modified Hasselblad 500C on five space missions, before the Hasselblad company noticed. When pictures of Edward H. White making the US’s first spacewalk were published worldwide, it became apparent that the pictures were taken with a Hasselblad camera. The little company in Gothenburg contacted NASA and offered to develop a space camera for them. NASA and Hasselblad entered an agreement and their collaboration continued until 2003.
In August 1966, Sweden got its first satellite: a Hasselblad super-wide camera. Astronaut Michael Collins lost hold of it during a spacewalk.
On 20 July 1969, the Eagle, Apollo 11’s moon lander, touched down in the Sea of Tranquillity on the moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left the capsule and took humankind’s first historic steps on our nearest neighbour in space. With two Hasselblad cameras, they immortalised the landing and the first footprints on the moon. Pictures of the Earth, as seen from space, are among the most published pictures ever.
The Hasselblad Company
Erna and Victor Hasselblad sold the camera factory in 1978 to investment firm Säfveån. Since then the camera maker has changed hands several times, but still makes quality cameras in Gothenburg.
For information about today’s Victor Hasselblad AB and the Hasselblad camera, please visit http://www.hasselblad.se