Szilárd Szabad and his cameras

The Hungarian-Swedish camera maker. By Par Rittsel 

Szilars Szabad, copyright Par Rittsel

Szilárd Szabad 1907–1994

Szilárd built a family of cameras in the European sizes 9x12, 12x16 and 18x24 cm. Later the U.S. formats 4x5, 5x7 and 8x10 inch was added. He also built a tripod, solid as a rock.


Szilárd Szabad came to Sweden in 1936 from Hungary and was admitted to the Stockholm Technical Institute's aviation department – he had experimented with a helicopter design in his youth. But as the war came closer, being Hungarian, or foreign from anywhere, did not merit for a job in the emerging Swedish airplane industry. He got a job as a model builder and eventually started a workshop of his own in downtown Stockholm. The Hasselblad agency became a frequent customer, with an increasing demand for repairs of plate and film cassettes, as the war had blocked the import. Photographers from the nearby Herman Bergne studio became frequent visitors and as a response to their criticism of their Kodak studio camera's lack of flexibility, he constructed a new camera with swings and tilts both in the front and back plane:


 Szilárd gave me what he called his very first camera, a prototype that bore a small plate saying proudly "Szabad Stockholm," but the production units were sold as "Hasselblads Universalkamera". The Hasselblad family had owned the Kodak agency in Sweden since 1908 when Arvid Victor shook hands with George Eastman – a deal that would last until 1966.

From the original design, the camera had developed from each batch – the first batch was just 50 cameras, later orders were for a hundred at a time. But in 1953, Szilard was fed up being an underpaid subcontractor and announced that from now on he was only selling "Szabad Cameras".

That decision marked the introduction of a new series of cameras, now in black wood instead of mahogany and with an integral back base, instead of the separate piece that photographers often lost.