Hassselblad was formed by Victor Hassselblad in Gothenburg in Sweden, and rapidly became a leading manufacturer of medium format cameras and photographic equipment.
The story goes that during the Second World War, the Swedes captured a German surveillance camera and wanted to develop a similar camera for their own use. Victor Hasselblad established a workshop in Gothenburg in 1940 to design such a camera. At that time, Hasselblad also used to produce watch and clock parts, although Victor Hasselblad’s real ambition was to make high quality cameras.
In 1948, the 1600F was released. This camera was made in two series – Series 1 and Series 2 – and continued to be made till 1953. In 1953, the 1000F was released, and was coupled for the first time with a 38mm Biogon lens from Zeiss. The 1000F was a significant achievement and very soon the Hasselblad name became famous across Europe and America.
1957 was an important year for Hasselblad with the launch of the 500C. The design of the 500C formed the basis for Hasselblad’s product line for the next
40 years. By 1974, production of the 500C reached 18,000 per year.
The Hasselblad system continued its rapid development. NASA continued to use Hasselblad cameras on its space flights right from 1962. This dramatically improved Hasselblad’s recognition as a camera of real high quality. The 500C and the 500 C/M featured flash synchronization at all speeds; every lens that was coupled with the camera body featured a shutter that was not only quiet but also extremely reliable. The Hasselblad system soon increased in size and featured a number of Zeiss lenses, prism finders with meters, a variety of backs and a huge range of other accessories.
In 1977, the 2000 series of focal plane shutter models was introduced. This camera provided full exposure automation. In 1991, the 200 series of automated focal plane shutter models was introduced. The 200 series represented the last major technical development in what was known as the V system of Hasselblad cameras.
In 1996, Hasselblad was sold. Following the sale, Hasselbald tied up with Fujifilm to launch the XPan, a camera designed and made by Fujifilm for Hasselblad in Japan. In 2002, the Hasselblad H system was launched. This system dropped the square negative format in favour of 6×4.5cm and was designed and manufactured by Fujifilm with limited involvement from Hasselblad. The H system also featured autofocus lenses from Fujifilm. In 2003, the Shriro Group acquired Hasselblad. Shortly thereafter, digital camera back manufacturer IMACON was acquired.
However, medium format cameras were going through a tough time with brands like Bronica, Mamiya and Rollei announcing closure. A weak Hasselblad was sold in 2011 to a private equity fund which carried on until last month, when it announced the closure of the medium format film camera business.
The Hasselblad brand, however, will be fondly remembered for its high quality, reliability and the excellent optics supplied by Zeiss. Even today, old Hasselblad equipment is sought after in the second-hand market and holds its price very well.
At Photokina 2012, Hasselblad ‘exhibited’ the Lunar mirrorless ILC using the Sony E mount. It is still to see the light of day.
Interestingly, it is always possible to tell the year of manufacture of any Hasselblad camera or film magazine by looking at the serial number. The code used was VHPICTURES (meaning Victor Hasselblad Pictures), in which ‘V’ equals 1, ‘H’ equals 2, ‘P’ equals 3 and so on. So if the serial number started with ET for example, the camera/film magazine was made in the year 96, meaning 1996. Since this method of identifying came about in the 19th century, it was assumed that the product was manufactured in the 19th century. If the product was manufactured in the 20th century, then the year corresponded to 20xx.
H. S. Billimoria