It's not easy to recognize the make. It looks so military... hell, it is
military! But the shape seems familiar. Box-like body. Detachable back. Big bad lens.
Yes, this is the first brainchild of Victor Hasselblad
, made in the 1940s for the Swedish Air Force. It took only a few steps to transform this spartan device into a camera that will conquer the Moon.
During World War II, the Swedish military captured a fully functioning German aerial surveillance camera from a downed German plane. This was probably a Handkamera HK 12.5 / 7x9, which bore the codename GXN. The Swedish government realised the strategic advantage of developing an aerial camera for their own use, and in the spring of 1940 approached 34-years old, Dresden-educated Victor Hasselblad and asked him if he could produce a camera identical to the recovered German one. Legend has it that Victor responded “No, but I can make a better one”. That April, Victor Hasselblad established a camera workshop in Gothenburg called Ross AB
in a shed at an automobile shop near a junkyard and working in the evenings in cooperation with an auto mechanic from the shop and his brother, began to design the HK7
camera (shown above).
By late 1941, the operation had over twenty employees and the Swedish Air Force asked for another camera, one which would have a larger negative and could be permanently mounted to an aircraft; this model was known as the SKa4
Then came the SKa5 and also the Mk80
surveillance camera with a periscope viewfinder:
Between 1941 and 1945, Hasselblad delivered 342 cameras to the Swedish military. Most of them used perforated 70mm film.
After the war, watch and clock production continued, and other machine work was also carried out, including producing a slide projector and supplying parts for Saab automobiles. Victor Hasselblad's real ambition, though, was to make high quality civilian cameras. In 1945-1946, the first design drawings and wooden models were made for a camera to be called the Rossex
. An internal design competition was held for elements of the camera; one of the winners was Sixton Sason
, the designer of the original Saab bodywork:
In 1948, the single-reflex camera later known as the 1600F
was released. The new design was very complex, and many small improvements were needed to create a reliable product; the watchmaking background of many of the designers produced a design which was sophisticated, but more delicate than what was required for a camera. Only around 50 units were produced in 1949, and perhaps 220 in 1950, of what collectors have come to designate the Series One
The Series Two
versions of the 1600F, perhaps as many as 3300 made from 1950 to 1953, were more reliable but still subject to frequent repairs, with many units having been cannibalized or modified by the factory. Initially the cameras were fit with the Kodak Ektar
lenses (80/2.8 standard and optional 135/3.5 telephoto).
In 1953, a much-improved camera, the 1000F
was released - with reduced shutter speed (1/1000 against 1/1600for the 1600F) but more trustworthy:
In 1954, they took the 1000F design and mated it to the groundbreaking new 38 mm Biogon lens designed by Dr. Bertele of Zeiss to produce the non-reflex SWA
(Supreme Wide Angle, later changed to Super Wide Angle).
Though a specialty product not intended to sell in large numbers, the SWA was an impressive achievement, and derivatives were sold for decades. Hasselblad took their two products to the 1954 Photokina trade show in Germany, and word began to spread. Professionals who remained indifferent to the late-1940s New York Series One presentation started to realize the Hasselblad potential: medium format + interchangeable back.
1957 was the real turning point for the company. The 1000F was replaced by the 500C. The landmark 500C design formed the basis for Hasselblad's product line for the next forty years:
In the 1960s the Hasselblad cameras invaded the realm previously occupied by Rolleiflex
- portrait and fashion photography. More important, they made a space invasion. Only one step divided the 1957 500C from the 1965 motor-driven 500EL
, developed on NASA request.
And its special version, with a 70mm film back (just like the wartime cameras!), became the famous 'Moon camera' of the Apollo 11
Just a few steps - from Dieselpunk to Space Age.
There's more in the Cameras album
(pages 2-4), including early ads & manual covers
Special thanks to Hasselbladhistorical