Ever thought it would be neat to know the year your Hasselblad was born? Or better yet, its birthday? Turns out that finding that information is much easier than you might expect.
Hasselblad bodies and most film backs have serial numbers that begin with two letters followed by a string of numbers. To find the serial number for both, simply remove the back from the body and you’ll see the serial numbers on the inner faces of each piece of equipment.
The cool thing about these numbers is that Victor Hasselblad implemented a secret code (less secret now than it was) that identified the year a camera was made. Here’s the code: VHPICTURES. (Get it? VH for Victor Hasselblad.) Each letter in this ten digit code represents a number between zero and nine.
V = 1
H = 2
P = 3
I = 4
C = 5
T = 6
U = 7
R = 8
E = 9
S = 0
Now all you have to do is take the two letters in your serial number and translate them into numbers. If the number is greater than 50, add the prefix 19 to it and if the number is less than 50 add the prefix 20. For example, in the image above, the camera body (right) has a serial number of UV114133. We see from the code that U = 7 and V = 1. Seventy-one is greater than 50, so we add a “19” to the front end and voila! This camera was made in 1971. Let’s try another: take a look at the magazine on the left, with a serial number starting in RR. This translates to 88, making this magazine’s vintage in 1988. Simple, no?
You can do a similar process with the Zeiss lenses that mount on your Hasselblad. If you remove the lens from the body and look inside the back mount on the rear baffling near the rear optic you should see a small three or four digit code stamped in red ink.
The last two digits of this code represent the month of manufacture where 01 = January, 02 = February and so on. Take the remaining one or two digits at the beginning of the code and add those on to 1957 and you have the year the lens was made. For example, the code above is 805. The fifth month of the year is May, and 8 + 1957 = 1965. Therefore, this lens was made in May of 1965. If the code was 1805, it would indicate a lens manufactured in May of 1975.
This process works for pre-1980 Zeiss lenses. If you have a post-1980 lens you will see a code comprised of two digits and a letter. Reverse the two digits and you have the year, where the letter once again signifies the month (A = January, B = February, etc). So a lens with the code D48 would have been made in April of 1984.
If you really must know which day of the month your lenses came into the world you can contact Zeiss directly and they should be able to tell you via the lens’ serial number. That way you’ll be sure to never miss another birthday.
Update: We’ve received some great questions about Hasselblad dating on our Facebook Page. One Hasselblad lens owner was looking at a serial number similar to D89B. So what’s with the extra ‘B’ at the end? After 1980, when Zeiss switched over to the two numbers and single letter system, they included on some later model lenses an extra A or B after the two numbers. It’s not yet be released (to our knowledge) what these letters stand for, and the dating system still works using the first letter and following numbers. For now, the purpose for the extra A and B remains a mystery.