Take a look inside Hasselblad's camera factory in Sweden

Hasselblad’s factory is located in Gothenburg – Sweden’s second largest city. The company has operated in Gothenburg since 1841, but it only became a camera manufacturer in 1941. Today's HQ, down the river from the city centre, is where the company makes both the H-series cameras and the newer X1D mirrorless model.
During a recent visit I was shown around the factory and was lucky enough to get permission to photograph the production line in detail. They knew I was coming so any secret stuff was tucked away safely out of sight, but it was just as interesting speaking to the staff and finding out about the components of the cameras, what they do and seeing how they are made.
There were three things that really struck me about the factory. The first is that it is a lot smaller than other similar plants I’ve visited in the past. I was escorted almost all the time I was there, but there was no reception desk where I had to sign in, and I didn’t even have to wear a visitor’s badge – I guess because everyone knows everyone else and strangers stand out. The company employs 180 people worldwide, with only 40 people at the factory - and 30 of them working in production.
The second thing that caught my interest is the number of components that have been designed to be used in both H6D and X1D, thus making manufacturing more efficient. The third is the hand-made nature of the products. I’m used to factories powered by robots and automation, but this was a world of hand-tools and humans.
Click through this article for a tour.
The factory floor

This is the main area of the assembly line where the H6D and X1D are produced. I had expected to see the processes in a linear fashion from start to finish, but actually it seems different components are assembled as they are needed and each worker performs a range of tasks. This photo doesn't show the whole factory, as there is an R&D area that I couldn’t go into, but this is where the current shipping products are put together. Hasselblad designs all the components itself but has most of them made by external suppliers, mostly from Sweden.
In this picture an X1D’s audio system is being tested in the foreground, and to the left a H6D body is being put together. In the distance, shutter units are being made.
Making the shutters

The shutter units start with a moulded ring of plastic onto which the components are attached. The company makes two sizes of shutter unit, both of which can be used in HC and XCD lenses for the H cameras and the X1D. The smaller, a 20mm shutter, uses one piezo-electric motor to open and close the iris, while the 28mm version has two.
A detailed shot of shutter unit, mid-assembly.
Making the shutters

So far the XCD lenses have only used the 20mm unit, but I’m told future lenses will use the larger one as well. The upcoming fast 80mm XCD lens will be a candidate for the larger shutter as its maximum aperture will be wider than f/2.
Measuring tension

The worker assembling the shutter units tests the tension of the shutter release mechanisms with her thumbs, as over time she has come to know what the right tension feels like. Once she thinks she has it right she tests each switch with a meter to verify her instincts.
After hand-testing the shutter release tension, the technician checks with a measuring tool.
Building the iris

Each blade of the lens iris is riveted by hand. It is then cleaned and attached to the main shutter mechanism.
Testing shutter accuracy

Each shutter unit is tested for accuracy and consistency of performance using a collimator and a device that measures the shape and size of the iris opening. Each aperture setting is tested multiple times, as is each shutter speed. If the unit isn’t up to scratch the operator on the testing desk either fixes it or sends it back a stage for investigation.

This shows a short sequence from a shutter accuracy test, measuring the shutter opening time and iris size. Other long term tests are carried out about once a week, and involve a shutter unit being put in a machine that triggers it for days on end. I was told the shutter life of Hasselblad lenses is quoted as over 1 million actuations.
H6D handgrips

The day I was at the plant, handgrips for the H6D were being made. There's quite a lot of circuitry to fit into a small space.
50MP back for the A6D aerial camera

Here is the back of an A6D aerial camera being assembled. The main parts that go into the back are the 50MP sensor unit, the processing board and the control board. I was amazed that the company uses 32GB micro SD cards in these backs, but was told the calibration and firmware files the back uses are very big.
The ribbon cables and the boards are all connected by hand and fitted into the back during a delicate, pains-taking process.
Tilt and shift adapter

Here’s a HTS 1.5 tilt and shift adapter being put together. The adapter provides ‘large format’ movements for six of the company’s H system lenses. It allows up to 18mm of shift in both directions and 10° of tilt, while multiplying the focal length by approx. 1.5x because of its thickness.
Tilt and shift adapter

Again, the device is assembled by hand, with each screw being secured in place with thread-locking glue.
Assembling the auxiliary shutter

Between the mirror box and the sensor of the H series cameras there’s an auxiliary shutter that has to be sprung with exactly the right tension. Again this shutter unit is assembled by hand from a number of small components and then tested by touch while the tension is adjusted.
The man working at this station told me he needed the tension to be about 0.9 Newtons, and then tested the one he had just made to find he was only 0.02 N out. He said it took a few months of continuous manufacturing for him to be able to get the tension right by touch.
Adding the AF module and shutter mechanism

The aluminum chassis of the H6D is made at a foundry not far from the factory and has remained very much the same since the original H1. The final assembly of the body looks very complicated, as there is a mass of ribbon cable to fit between the boards, as well as the auxiliary shutter, the mirror mechanisms and the AF module. The chassis, the steel mount and the body shell are all made in Sweden.
The shot on the left shows the AF module of the H6D, which sits behind the main mirror. The last shot shows the chassis loaded with electronics and ready to be fitted into the body and to have the handgrip attached.
Mechanical tests for the H6D

In this picture, H6D bodies await mechanical testing and measuring. The length of the body can’t vary by more than 0.02mm in order for the autofocus to work. This machine is used to measure the position of the AF module and the AF mirror, and to match the view of the viewfinder with the sensor via the position of the mirror.
Each body is then attached to a metal block for the orientation sensor to be calibrated - a process that helps facilitate the company’s True Focus feature. This feature measures the angle the camera moves during a focus-lock-and-recompose routine, so that the added distance between the image plabe and the subject can be compensated for in the focusing.
Calibrating the H6D

In a clean room each H6D undergoes its individual calibration procedure. First the sensor and filters are checked for dust and dirt, and cleaned until they are spotless. Then the sensor is checked for dead pixels and the color characteristics, dynamic range and brightness response are measured.
Calibrating the H6D

Each camera has its own calibration program which is loaded onto the body and fired up every time the camera starts. The calibration data is saved at the factory should it ever need to be reloaded to the camera.
It takes about an hour to calibrate each body.
X1D mechanical tests

Once assembled the cameras go through a series of mechanical and systems tests to ensure they are functioning correctly. Operators take a series of pictures with each model and check the audio system, among other things.
X1D mechanical tests

The technician looking down a long dark box is checking there’s no light leaking from the side of the rear LCD panel.
Profiling X1D bodies

Color response is recorded and adjusted so that the camera will produce ‘Hasselblad Color’. As with the H6D, each X1D body has its own tailor-made calibration which is loaded to the internal memory. That’s why the cameras take a couple of seconds to start up.
Each camera takes about 700 pictures during the calibration process.
Profiling X1D bodies

Here an X1D is being calibrated, and the monitor shows the characteristics that are being checked with. As can be seen, in this example the sensor (which is CMOS, not CCD as marked) isn’t aligned within tolerances, so it will be adjusted.
Final checks and cleaning

The last part of the process involves a bright light and a high powered magnifying glass. A lady personally inspects every model that leaves the factory for dirt, dust and marks. She cleans each body very carefully, rubs and polishes, before she is satisfied and it can be boxed.
Final checks and cleaning

X1D bodies towards the end of the production and checking process, before being boxed and shipped to customers all over the world.


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