Nikon, Leica and Hasselblad: The cameras that have been to space

Hasselblad, Leica and Nikon cameras in space. Used by Astronauts.
(Image credit: Hasselblad)

Cameras like the Hasselblad 500 EL, which were used by astronauts in space, now hold a special place in history. These cameras were used to capture some of the most iconic images of the last century. 

It's pretty incredible to think that these individuals and cameras were literally off planet and taking pictures – it's definitely a cut above our own efforts at shooting a little astrophotography

 Read more: Best camera for astrophotography

A recent video (below) from Scott Manley discusses the different kinds of cameras that went into space along with the astronauts, and also talks about how they were used – and the challenges that were raised. 

During the days of film, almost all of the cameras required some kind of modification. This was either to ensure that the cameras could accept the special film that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) used, or to simply make them operational when astronauts went out for a walk. 

Some of the most famous images taken on the moon were shot with the Hasselblad 500 EL camera. This camera was specifically designed for NASA, which is why it looks very different from most Hasselblads. 

A Leica camera had also been used in space ,and this camera was modified for a science experiment; the main purpose of this camera was to perform spectroscopy on the stars. 

More recently however, NASA moved over to working with Nikon full-frame cameras. Between 2013 and 2016, NASA ordered 48 Nikon D4 cameras along with 64 Nikkor lenses. NASA bought even more cameras from the manufacturer in 2017, when it purchased 53 Nikon D5 cameras. 

These flagship professional cameras from Nikon (the latest of which is the Nikon D6) are designed for the most demanding situations, with their rugged design and simple reliability being why so many professionals use them. It's quite a endorsement, when an organization like NASA chooses to use a particular camera! 

Read more:

New photos from the ISS are out of this world
The best lenses for astrophotography
Best star tracker camera mounts for astrophotography
The best telescopes for astrophotography

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Usman Dawood

Usman is a commercial and architectural photographer based in West Yorkshire, who has been working professionally for over seven years. He has also spent over four years as a writer for the biggest photography sites in the world, including Staff Writer for Digital Camera World, senior staff writer for FStoppers, and tech writer for Petapixel. 

With a particular interest in technology developments, high-resolution imaging and the high-end cameras, Usman has been on the cutting edge of camera news as well as writing features about medium format systems and global shutters, and has reviewed some of the latest Leica cameras as well as a tripod that’s even taller than Andre the Giant!