Behind the HYPE: How Hasselblad Became the Camera for Space Exploration

Hasselblads have photographed everything from music icons to the first man on the moon.

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Founded and based in Gothenburg, Sweden, Hasselblad produces some of the world’s most lauded cameras. Used for purposes as far-flung as Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel photoshoots and photographing Apollo 11’s moon landing, the Hasselblad name instantly evokes images of premium quality, pristine visuals and appealing design. But how did a once-humble Swedish camera company stake out such a lofty place in the world of photography over the last 80 years? How do cameras that cost up to $47,000 USD find favor in an era where everyone’s a “photographer” thanks to the ever-increasing potency of smartphone cameras?

From a design standpoint, the brand’s cameras are beautifully compact and boxy. One of their main differentiators from other manufacturers is the viewfinder, which faces from the top down instead of towards the subject. “When you use a Hasselblad, you’re looking down rather than looking at the person. It slows everything down, and gives [the photographer] that extra breathing room” says Hasselblad photographer Janet Beckman. Tyler Shields seconds Beckman’s statements, saying “There’s something tangible to the picture, and when you print [the pictures], that’s when you see a whole other level to it.”

Although Hasselblad was originally established in 1841 and formed its photography division in partnership with Eastman Kodak in the late 1890s, its rise to mainstream prominence started with 1948’s 1600F, the world’s first SLR in medium format. Later, Hasselblad’s 500C line — still its most iconic products — debuted in 1957. However, the company’s defining moment was in 1969, when American astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins’ Apollo 11 spacecraft was the first to touch down on the moon’s surface. A 500C accompanied the three astronauts to their otherworldly destination, and captured some of the most iconic photos of the 20th century. This was a byproduct of Hasselblad’s partnership with NASA, which began in 1962, and aimed to produce lighter, durable cameras that would perform in the uncertain environment of outer space. Back on Earth, the 500C was used to photograph everyone from Jimi Hendrix to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Later, in the ‘90s, Hasselblad made history once again with its X-Pan, developed in partnership with Fujifilm. Although it was a standard 35mm camera, it featured the awe-inspiring ability to produced a 65mm panorama photo, nearly twice its size. Moving on to 2016, Hasselblad made history with the X1D — the first-ever mirrorless medium format camera. This was followed by the H6D400C, the aforementioned $47,000 USD model. Boasting technical features like a dynamic range of 15 stops for unparalleled agility and unreal quality, the H6D400C makes a strong argument as the finest camera on the market today, and secures Hasselblad’s position as a paradigm of photographic innovation.

Watch the video above to learn everything you need to know about Hasselblad, and be sure to check out the other videos in our Behind the HYPE series.

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