Victor Hasselblad

Victor Hasselblad



If you know photography, you know the Hasselblad camera. But do you know Hasselblad, the man? His life and ancestry are rich. Even the origin of the name “Hasselblad” has an interesting story. According to Hasselblad, an ancestor in the early 1600s needed a “good name” to wed the daughter of a wealthy man. An agreement was made that the first object seen after a certain point in the road would be the given name. Supposedly, the first object was a leaf falling from a hazel tree. Thus, we have hassel (hazel) and blad (leaf). However, the events and success of the family that the world now knows began on May 15, 1841.


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The years and experience leading up to the “civilian camera” played a vital role in what Hasselblad would produce. His needs for recording birds were diverse. Over the years, Victor had used many cameras, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each. The Graflex provided a large negative, but was heavy and unwieldy. The Leica was a beautiful precision instrument, but Victor missed the big negative. The Rolleiflex had the required reflex viewfinder, and the 6x6cm format was a good compromise, but the Rollei lacked interchangeable lenses and a sufficiently high top shutter speed for photographing fast-moving objects (such as birds in flight). After noting these specifics and laying out a basic design, Hasselblad offered a 5,000 kronor prize (one year’s pay) to the person or persons who could design and create the “ideal” camera. In 1948 the Hasselblad 1600F was introduced in the United States. The New York Herald-Tribune wrote “the Swedish camera seems to have almost everything that a photographer could want in a camera that measures less than four inches square and is a little over six inches long with a magazine and standard 80mm lens attached. It’s the perfect camera.” As with all cameras, there were many models following the successful first. Hence, the widely and wildly loved Hasselblad.

The camera was so widely and wildly loved, NASA used the Hasselblad in space. Since it was the ideal earth camera, why could it not be the ideal space camera? It was both. In fact, it was the only camera used in the space program for many years. On October 3, 1962, the first Hasselblad camera was taken into space. The photographs taken by astronaut Walter M. Schirra while orbiting the earth astonished the world. A special department was established at the Hasselblad factory in Gothenburg to carry out further development on the space cameras, utilizing Hasselblad’s own ideas and experience.

The Hasselblad 500C is considered the “space pioneer”. Views of the earth never previously witnessed by the world were now recorded on film. Hasselblad’s name would certainly never be forgotten now. Houston Control overheard an intercom conversation between astronaut Edward White and one of his colleagues saying, “come closer so I can get a shot of you with the Hasselblad.” During the final Gemini flights in 1966, the Hasselblad Super Wide C (the ultra wide-angle camera) was the choice camera. Of course, it worked beautifully. It produced brilliantly sharp images. An interesting event occurred during one of the space walks, which makes this particular camera famous. Astronaut Michael Collins dropped his Super Wide C, and although he made several attempts to save it, it floated out of reach to became an “earth satellite”. Some experts say it “plunged to its destruction about three years later.” Hasselblad cameras also accompanied astronauts on Apollo Flights. The Hasselblad 500EL/70 Data Camera with Reseau Plate made an important debut when it became the first still camera on the moon. It was the camera hanging from Neil Armstrong’s neck when he became the first man to walk on the moon.

Dr. Hasselblad’s cameras have been in demand by professional photographers and advanced amateurs throughout the world. The demand continues today. A replica of the first camera on the moon is currently in IPHF’s Permanent Collection in St. Louis, MO. Victor Hasselblad was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in 1980 in recognition for his important contributions to the science and art of photography.

By Lori Oden For IPHF