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Hasselblad Superwide History


Red SWC:
A factory special project camera prepared for Carl Zeiss at their request to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the design of the 38mm Biogon lens.

Rick Nordin visited our shop in New York City a few years ago expressing an interest in some dusty old Hasselblad literature that, for some mysterious reason, escaped the trash bin. We gave him what we had but the excitement in his face made us wonder if we were giving away something of hidden value. He purchased some old Hassy items of interest only to a collector. Before leaving he mentioned he had written a soft covered book detailing old Hasselblad cameras. Several weeks later he sent us a copy of his book. It became a valuable source of information regarding the pre 500C model. The book contained detailed photographs of unusual accessories we had never seen. Alas! Rick Nordin is the Jim Lager of Hasselblad.

When we learned of Rick's new, hardcover book The Hasselblad System Compendium we eagerly sought out a copy and felt certain other Hassy aficionados would welcome this book to their library. (You can order the book on line from us for $60, shipping included).

Through the kind permission of Rick Nordin and his publisher, Hove Press, we are reproducing parts of this book on our Web site from time to time.


Victor Hasselblad went to Photokina in Cologne for the first time as a manufacturer in 1954. His major purpose was to introduce a new wide-angle camera which followed the design philosophy of his original camera, and to promote the new 1000F model. The new wide-angle camera, the Supreme Wide Angle, was built to utilize the exceptional 38mm f4.5 Biogon lens developed by Zeiss.

The lens design used was that of a true wide-angle rather than a retrofocus type. Because of this design, the distance between the rear element and the film plane was too short to use the lens as a separate interchangeable unit for the 1000F, so a separate abbreviated body with an optical viewfinder was developed, to which standard Hasselblad backs could be attached and which utilized many of the Hasselblad accessories. The Biogon lens, designed for 35mm coverage, had been previously made available for Contax cameras and subsequently in 4 by 5 inch design for view camera applications.


The camera was made from 1954 to 1957 with essentially the cameras from the first two years (1954-55) having the name Supreme Wide Angle and the cameras made in 1956-57 being engraved with name Super Wide. There seems to be some debate (in my mind at least) as to whether these should be considered separate camera models or two variants of the same model. There are a number of changes to the lens barrel that occurred about the same time as the name plate change, so they can be recognized as two distinctly different cameras although in the middle of the changes there are undoubtedly some transitional cameras with a mixture of features. The Supreme Wide Angle

From the beginning, factory ads and instruction book used the Super Wide rather than the Supreme Wide Angle name. The SWA is interesting in that it not only has a serial number for the body (in the conventional place on the lower rear body surface), and a serial number on the lens (adjacent to the front element) and another on the shutter cover (typical for many cameras with Compur shutters). The lens/shutter/focusing mount was supplied by Zeiss and the factory simply fitted the abbreviated body.

The first SWA was CIW 1001 and was shipped from the factory in April 1954. The highest known SWA serial number is CC1903 shipped from the factory in the last day of December 1955 having likely been assembled in November or December.

The SWA has a reversible feet/metre focusing ring scale similar to the 60 Distagon, rotating through just less than 180 degrees, the SW is distinctly different as it has duplicate, side by side, feet and metre scale which rotates through just less than 360 degrees. The lens takes Series VIII (63mm) filters (5 factory available: Y, G, O, R, and haze) held in place by a chrome plated brass filter retaining ring. It uses a metal lens cap which slips over the outside of the lens with the standard practice gray fabric friction seal on the inside lip and the "winged V" logo on the front.


There are a few external differences, which seem to accompany the name change from Supreme Wide Angle to Super Wide. As noted, there is a difference in the focusing helicord in that it rotates through about 320 degrees (for the SW) rather than 180 (SWA). Most of the SuperWides (perhaps all of them) have a different lens barrel construction with an additional metal cylinder (with a cut-out section for the shutter controls), connecting the front and rear sections of the lens barrel which is not present on earlier cameras.

The lens and shutter assembly on the SW cameras has a much more solid feel to them with this modification. It is not known where in the production run this change occurred. The earliest known is in the 2000 serial number range. Another change is in a slightly different set of parts making up the shutter cocking tube, which runs between the body and lens, a different location for the shutter speed markings and a few other minor differences.

The SWA/SW is a joy to use. It has wonderfully sharp resolution, low distortion and high contrast of images produced by the lens. The Biogon design, even by modern criteria is very highly regarded. The compact form of the camera makes it easy to carry and use. Although the factory no longer services these cameras (not surprising since most are more than 40 years old), many of the SWA/SW's are still being used and their market value (which is higher than the 1600F and 1000F) reflects that utility.

The price when the SWA was introduced in 1954 was $470 but did not include the viewfinder (an additional $49). The prices remained the same until 1959 when the SWC became available. Although the SW was advertised in 1958 and early 1959, it would appear that these were cameras sold from existing stock as there is no record of any camera bodies with a 1958 or 1959 date codes. The SWC began production in 1959 with serial number CE 3000.


The SuperWide C is a superb special purpose camera built around the 38mm f4.5 Zeiss Biogon lens. The major advance in the SWC camera was the integration of the film advance and shutter cocking functions that on the earlier cameras had been separate operations. "SWC" is apparently an abbreviation for Super Wide Camera.

The SWC was manufactured without any appreciable change (a mechanical modification in 1966) from 1959 to 1969 when the lens barrel was changed from anodized aluminum to a semi-gloss black and the viewfinder modified slightly to have a small rubber bumper on the rear, presumably to avoid scratches to eyeglasses and to protect the vulnerable exposed end of the finder from wear.
This change appears in the 1970 catalog.


In 1973, the SWC Biogon was among the first lenses to receive the T* multicoating. Zeiss began with the wide angle lenses that benefited from the multicoating process than the longer focal length lenses. Black bodies became available in 1972.

The known serial number ranges for the SWC run from 3000 to 15471 (about 12000 cameras) and from 141001 to 142111 (nominally 1482 cameras).


The next change resulted in the SWC/M (modified) in 1980. The body was modified by raising the viewfinder base, lowering the quick release shoe and changing the design of the film advance/shutter cocking crank so that it could be "ratcheted." The major purpose was to allow a Polaroid back to be used with the SWC. Hasselblad recommends using only the model 100 back and not the model 80 back because the latter has a bottom shape, which does not fit due to interference with the tripod mounting shoe. Any of the earlier SWC could be modified in the same way by a repairman using a factory supplied kit. The SWC/M with the C lens is a relatively low production camera with at most 2000 assembled.

The SWC and its improved variants are an example of a high quality specialty camera, essentially hand made in small quantities. For most of the period of production, one staff member specialized in the assembly of this camera, attaching a body shell to the Biogon lens supplied by Zeiss and fitting all the internal pieces. If you have a SWC or SWC/M made in the 1970's or 1980's your camera was likely put together by a skilled woman named Florence, who assembled several thousand cameras during that period.


A major change occurred in 1982 coincident with the change in the design of the entire lens line from the C to the CF lens design. The camera is still called SWC/M but has a noticeably different appearance with the CF lens.

The early versions of the CF lens version of the SWCM use the same megaphone style viewfinder as the C lens version. In 1985 the design of the finder changed to the current type where the bubble level is incorporated into the finder instead of being on the body and viewed through a small prism. A coincident change in the body is the elimination of the bubble level.



The current model of this camera is the 903SWC introduced in 1989. This latest upgrade improved the internal anti-reflective body coating (palpas) but externally is identical to the CF version of the SWC/M with the exception of the 903 nameplate on the camera body.

So in summary there are seven versions of the SWC camera
  1. 1959-1968 SWC silver lens barrel, all bodies chrome
  2. 1968-1973 SWC black lens barrel, but not T*, all chrome bodies
  3. 1973-1980 SWC black lens barrel T* coating, bodies can be either chrome or black
  4. 1980-1982 SWC/M-Polaroid back usable
  5. 1982-1985 SWC/M with CF lens and bubble level on body
  6. 1986-1988 SWC/M with CF lens and no bubble level on body
  7. 1989 to present- 903SWC
  • Type 1 1959-1969 standard "megaphone" finder
  • Type 2 1969-1985 standard finder with rubber at eyepiece
  • Type 3 1986-present finder with built in bubble level

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