domingo, 12 de agosto de 2018


From the ground up, one of the highlights of the 32nd Camera Auction held at Westlicht Vienna on March 10, 2018 was the Hasselblad Lunar Surface Super Wide Camera from 1968 produced for the NASA in A- condition (that´s to say, exceedingly good cosmetic condition, as well as working flawlessly) and coupled to a Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens (featuring a coverage angle of 91º and equivalent to a 21 mm lens in 35 mm format).

Therefore, not surprisingly, this camera had raised very high levels of expectation and the starting selling price estimation of 18,000-22,000 euros was beaten to a large extent by the winning bid of 48,000 euros which subsequently prevailed, honoring this gorgeous 70 mm medium format camera designed by the engineer Jan Lunberg and boasting a fascinating significance in the History of Photography and the development of Space Missions to the Moon, in addition to excelling in a number of different aspects.


This superwide camera was introduced for the first time on Gemini 9 Space Mission in June 1966 and was specially modified to be used inside the narrow cockpit of NASA spacecraft (taking advantage of its very wide coverage angle to get inner pictures with astronauts Thomas P. Stattford and Eugene Cernan) and to get panoramic shots of both the Moon and Earth surfaces during the 129 minute celestial stroll made by Eugene Cernan outside the space capsule.

It also took part during the Gemini 10, 11 and 12 missions, and the astronaut Michael Collins used it to make photographs of the earth´s surface while he was outside the Gemini 10 shuttle making some spacewalks.

The NASA needed to glean as much information as possible on the moon surface traits and orography, and realized the huge importance of documenting its missions with top quality pictures, because every detail could be decisive to guarantee as much as possible the astronauts´ survival in future landings on it, for which these first and very risky manned rockets (Project Mercury between 1958 and 1963 and Project Gemini with flights between 1964 and 1966) were the testing prelude.

And the best way to obtain those vital images of the Moon landscape in 1966 was by means of very big enlargements on photographic paper made from original 70 mm format colour films exposed from inside the spacecraft by the two medium format camera models selected:

the Hasselblad SWC Lunar Surface and the Hasselblad 500 EL Data cameras, both of them respectively attached to stellar performance lenses in terms of resolving power and contrast: the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 and the Carl Zeiss Biogon 60 mm f/5.6.

It was also a question of national pride: United States were trying to beat the Soviet Union in the space race in which the U.S.S.R had prevailed until then with the launching in 1957 of the Sputnik 1 satellite, followed by the Vostok 1 flight on April 12, 1961 with pilot Yuri Gagarin describing a single orbit (the first one ever) around the earth, and in mid sixties, the Soviet Union still got the upper hand in total time spent in space by its astronauts, including the feats accomplished by Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to have flown in space inside the Vostok 6 in 1963 and who orbited the earth 48 times.

This way, from then on the symbiosis between

Victor Hasselblad AB (manufacturer of the best medium format cameras in the world ),
Carl Zeiss Oberkochen (maker of the reference-class MF lenses of the photographic market)
and the NASA would be instrumental not only in the success of Gemini Space Missions, but also in the decisive Apollo Program manned lunar landings on the Moon between 1969 and 1972.


Victor Hasselblad AB made an all-out effort to meet NASA specifications as to the lowest weight and smallest dimensions feasible for the Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC with Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5, creating

a special ultralight magazine (modified to get 200 black and white images or 160 colour ones on 70 mm perforated Kodak Ektachrome film of specially thin chemical emulsion and base) which in synergy with the camera body also manufactured with a lightweight metallic alloy, proved to be highly efficient.

On the other hand, the camera was equipped with a bigger frame finder than usual, a larger and stronger shutter release button, and an oversized film winder.

Furthermore, the mechanical build of the camera is superb and proved its mettle working perfectly under temperatures of 120º C in the sun and - 65 º C in the shade, with very high levels of consistency.

Regarding the shutter, it was also modified and new state-of-the-art lubricants were chosen with utmost care to avoid the risk of boiling off in vacuum and condense all over the optical surfaces of the lens.

Needless to say that every component of the Hasselblad Lunar Surface superwideangle utterly mechanical camera is made with noble metals of maximum quality enabling full operational condition throughout many decades of professional work.

Besides, it is provided with a large cross-section sport viewfinder and an improved security in the release of the back with 70 mm film for 200 shots.

And the winding crank was manufactured in very light material to save weight.


The 8 elements in 5 groups Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 superwideangle lens (equivalent to a 21 mm in 24 x 36 mm format) for 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 (6 x 6 cm) format fixed to the Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC camera is an offspring of the lens bearing the same name (and permanently attached to the medium format Hasselblad Supreme Wide Angle Camera from mid fifties) which was designed in 1954 by Zeiss optician Hans Sauer adapting to square medium format the breakthrough 10 elements Biogon f/4.5 optical scheme with a viewing angle of 90º created in 1952 at Oberkochen by the genius Ludwig Bertele (and based on his amazing large format Aviogon design from 1950 aimed at aerial photography and photogrammetry with stratospheric levels of resolving power, contrast and correction of distortion), and which would be also the basis for three more ultra-wide angle lenses: the Biogon 21 mm f/4.5 for Contax 24 x 36 mm rangefinder camera, the Biogon 53 mm f/4.5 and the Biogon 75 mm f/4.5 for the 1955 9 x 12 cm large format Linhof camera).

Hans Sauer´s Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens brainchild for 6 x 6 cm format was called Supreme Wide Angle by Viktor Hasselblad since its very launching into market in 1954.

This non retrofocus lens delivers extraordinary optical performance regarding sharpness, contrast and reproduction of colours on center, borders and corners at every diaphragm — including f/4.5 widest aperture — and focusing distance, as well as boasting a superlative correction of distortion, virtually non existent, and surprisingly low vignetting, with the added bonus of an incredibly even field illumination of all the image surface typical in Dr. Ludwig Bertele´s original Biogon scheme achieving to increase the entrance pupil of the lens in consonance with the great angle of image.


The weight of the Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC camera with its Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens and its 70 mm magazine is extremely light (approximately 800 g) and makes a huge difference in comparison to a Hasselblad Super Wide C with identical lens of the same period, its finder and its A12 back for 6 x 6 cm film (1,360 g).

That´s to say, the Hasselblad Lunar Surface is roughly half a kilo lighter,

thanks to the special ultralight magazine (modified to get 200 images on 70 mm perforated Kodak Ektachrome film of specially thin chemical emulsion and base) and the ultralight metallic alloy used in the manufacture of the camera body following NASA specifications to ease handling by astronauts.


The Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens is a true non retrofocus super wideangle lens in which the distance between the rear element and the film plane is very scarce, thereby a fabulous image quality, practically 0 distortion, resolving power of 200 lines/mm and excellent sharpness on the whole frame surface are attained.

Therefore, one of the most important goals for the NASA on using the Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC camera in space was to get maximum detail in the pictures, particularly those ones made with special Kodak Ektachrome 70 mm colour slides.

As a matter of fact, the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 stands out (among many other aspecs) in its extraordinary depth of field, encompassing from 3 meters to infinite at full aperture, from 1, 2 m to infinite at f/11 and from 66 cm to infinite at f/22.

On the other hand, the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 featured by the 25 units of the Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC camera which were made between 1966 and 1969 (with serial numbers going from TRW 8560 to TRW 8590) included for the first time the legendary high quality Carl Zeiss T* multicoatings that would be subsequently introduced to the photographic market in 1972, so it outperformed the wonderfully chromed Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens of the Hasselblads Super Wide and Super Wide C cameras from fifties and sixties (which included lead and arsenic in some of their optical elements and wouldn´t be provided with the T* multicoatings until 1973) regarding colour saturation, resistance to flare and ghosting, brilliant and vivid images and contrast.


The Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC is a direct viewing camera lacking any swivelling mirror, so the NASA astronauts could use it handheld and reliably to get very sharp pictures without any trepidation, an aim for which the aforementioned accomplished reduction in weight of approximately 500 g was also of invaluable help in terms of handling convenience.

And of course, the vibrationless release button of the central synchronization Compur shutter is a key factor in this regard.


Along with Viktor Hasselblad AB, the other firm of the photographic scope whose role was exceedingly important for optimizing the performance of both the Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC with Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 and the Hasselblad EDC with Carl Zeiss Biogon 60 mm f/5.6 (the latter being the camera which was physically on the lunar surface in the hands of the Apollo XI Mission astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969) was Kodak Rochester USA.

In mid sixties, Kodak Rochester was asked by NASA to create thinner new 70 mm films with special emulsions to be used with the Hasselblad cameras.

This was a huge technological challenge and at the same time a pivotal factor to photograph the different NASA Space Programs, because it was necessary to reduce weight to the utmost (including films) and at the same time to get maximum image quality with the 70 mm chemical emulsions (superior in results to the usual 6 x 6 cm films) enabling to obtain 40 x 50 cm very high quality enlargements with full detail for their analysis by NASA Department of Photography.

And after a stint working full-blast, Kodak Rochester managed to beget the craved ultra light and thin Ektachrome EF SO168 160 ASA 70 mm doble perforated colour film,

which would be decisive for a significant qualitative turning point in the history of illustrated publications between mid sixties and 1972 in which the most prestigious international magazines and newspapers like Life, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post and others, launched numbers with special supplements on the different NASA space programs, featuring a lot of colour photographs in big sizes in addition to colour covers, all of them with impressive image quality, because the Kodak Ektachrome 70 mm colour transparencies (larger than 6 x 6 cm format ones) in synergy with photomechanics delivered superb results, so millions of copies were sold all over the world during those years, being particularly famous

the special newsmagazine colour supplement featuring 16 pages inside August 3, 1969 New York Times newspaper, under the global command of managing director Abe Rosenthal, with John G. Morris as picture editor, Hank Lieberman as scientific news coordinator and George Cowan as art director making a comprehensive coverage of Apollo 11 Mission, using high quality dupes and 8 x 10 (20 x 25 cm) prints made from the original 70 mm Ektachrome slides which had been developed by some expert photographic technicians at the Johnson Space Center in Houston (Texas) under the command of Richard Underwood (NASA Chief of Photography of the Apollo Mission and astronauts´ photography coach).


The Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC is an entirely mechanical photographic tool with dimensions of 145 x 112 x 150 mm, manufactured in specially light cast aluminium alloy and with completely manual film advance by means of a foldable winding crank, simultaneously making both the shutter cocking and the film advance.

And it is an awesomely pretty camera oozing elegance and beauty of design to spare, with rounded contours of painstaking finishing.


Two Hasselblad Lunar Surface SWC cameras with Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lenses took part in the Apollo XI Mission, being used inside the lunar module Eagle during the legendary flight that put man on the Moon, along with a Hasselblad Electric Camera (on board of the command module, and which used Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 and Carl Zeiss Sonnar 250 mm f/5.6 lenses) and a Hasselblad EL Data Camera (carried on the lunar module and coupled to a Carl Zeiss Biogon 60 mm f/5.6 with a reseau grid set in front of the image plane to provide photogrammetric information for the susbsequent analyses of the pictures made with it by Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface).
All of them were used with Kodak Ektachrome 70 mm film, getting splendid results.


The Hasselblad Lunar Surface Super Wide Camera with its Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 as most important component is the evolutive pinnacle of a hugely brilliant generation of German optical designers from Zeiss whose ingenuity and visionary talent had its halcyon days between thirties and mid seventies with such legendary figures like Ludwig Bertele (a true genius, designer of the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5, Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/2, Carl Zeiss Jena 8,5 cm f/2, Zeiss Olympia Sonnar 180 mm f/2.8, the large format 90º Aviogon lens for aerial photography and photogrammetry from 1950 which was free from aberrations and boasted a stunning correction of distortion to negligible levels, the 90º viewing angle Biogon from 1954, the Biogon 21 mm f/4.5 for 24 x 36 mm Contax camera, the large format 120º Super Aviogon from 1956, the large format Biogon 53 mm f/4.5 and Biogon 75 mm f/4.5 for Linhof cameras and others), Ernst Wandersleb (Director of the Carl Zeiss Jena Optical Department between 1911 and the Second World War, a pioneer giving significance to the mathematical functions of lens design, Willy Merté, Hans Sauer (Head of the Zeiss Photo Lens Department in Oberkochen after the Second World War and the key man in the designing and production of the reference-class lenses for 35 mm Contarex cameras and medium format Hasselblads), Johannes Berger (designer along with Gunther Lange of the Satz-Planar-Gon 35 mm f/4 for 24 x 36 mm format in 1957, the Carl Zeiss Planar 55 mm f/1.4 asymmetrical Double-Gauss scheme for Contarex in 1959 along with Günther Lange and the Carl Zeiss Planar 80 mm f/2.8 for medium format Hasselblads ), Günther Lange (designer of the Carl Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/2 for Contarex camera in 1953 along with Johannes Berger and the Satz-Planar 85 mm f/4 in 1957 ), Harry Zöllner (designer of the Biometar and Flektogon lenses), Robert Richter (Chief of Zeiss Photographic Division between 1939 and 1945 and designer of lenses like the Topogon, Telikon and Pleogon for large format aerial camera ), Erhardt Glatzel (designer of the Carl Distagon wideangle lenses during sixties, the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar zooms, the distortion free and 106º coverage Carl Zeiss Hologon 15 mm f/8 in 1964, the Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/0.7 in 1966, the photogrammetric Carl Zeiss Biogon 60 mm f/5.6 for the Apollo XI Mission in 1969, the Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/1.8 for Rollei and Voigtländer 24 x 36 mm format cameras in 1970, Erwin Konschack (designer of modified Gauss anstigmatic lenses with large vertex distances for use in fast highly corrected double lenses in 1971 and collaborator of Erhard Glatzel in the creation of the Zeiss Planar 50 mm f/1.8), Karl-Heinrich Behrens, Helmut Eismann (author of deep research on photographic objectives featuring three meniscus shaped elements independently air spaced between 1955 and 1957, and asymmetrical photographic objectives betwen 1959 and 1962) and others.

Hans Sauer and

Erhardt Glatzel were the men who designed between 1966 and 1972 the Carl Zeiss Oberkochen lenses coupled to Hasselblad medium format cameras for the United States Space Program, working under NASA specifications for the Gemini Project and Apollo Missions.

And the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 lens attached to the Hasselblad Super Wide Camera was undoubtedly the best space lens along with the Carl Zeiss Biogon 60 mm f/5.6 coupled to the Hasselblad EDC.
Therefore, throughout forty-one years (between 1954 and 1995), the Carl Zeiss Biogon 38 mm f/4.5 was by far the best ultra wideangle lens in the world, thanks to Hans Sauer´s prowess locating the last vertex at a distance of only 18.8 mm away from the film plane so there isn´t any mirror between the lens and the film plane), getting an almost symmetric non retrofocus design of amazing compactness and featuring the typical advantages of these optical schemes: extraordinary correction of distortion, colour and image field flatness, which in synergy with extremely precise manufacturing and outstanding resolving power turn this super wide angle lens into a stellar performer whose results in sharpness are likewise impressive, in the same way as the incredibly accurate assembly and centering of the eight elements inside the optical cell, which on their turn must be tjhroughly adjusted with respect the Compur shutter blades.

It speak volumes about the optomechanical performance of a yardstick superwideangle lens that wasn´t beaten until the launching into market in 1995 of the 10 elements in 6 groups Mamiya 43 mm f/4.5 L (based on Ludwig Bertele´s original large format 10 elements Biogon optical formula and boasting a maximum of 0.04 percent distortion on the corners) and in 2008 of the almost diffraction limited 15 elements in 11 groups Rodenstock 23 mm f/5.6 HR Digaron-S superwide angle lens boasting apochromatic design, a large image circle of 70 mm, 112º coverage and specifically designed for use with digital backs.

On the other hand, the modern optical designs helped by very powerful computers, specific top quality softwares optimized for optical correction of lenses and the use of aspherical elements have resulted in retrofocus designed super wideangles significantly approaching to the level of the true super wideangles regarding attained sharpness, but their distortion correction doesn´t attain the peerless perfection of the non retrofocus ultra wideangle designs or its level of excellence for the carrying out of architectonic and photogrammetric photography, since the non retrofocus super wideangle lenses are smaller in size and sharper than retrofocus super wideangle designs, and their rear elements are located very near the film plane.

© Text and Product Photos: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.