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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Getting your first Hasselblad Film Camera

Shushhhh! This is not a debate of Digital vs Film, quibble over different formats, battle of medium format manufacturers, nor comparison of 35mm with 120mm, this is simply not the why of Fry.

This one's for the Hasselblad Film Camera.

Medium format produces an extremely gorgeous images by expanding the field of view couple up with creamy bokeh! But it is not for the faint hearted, it requires so much more patience, technique and acceptance on quirky imperfection of film photography. I certainly don't claim the depth knowledge of medium format but what follows is an assembling of practical know-how on my Hasselblad.

I used to own a Mamiya RB67 which i used very much during my solo travelling days, so take these personal view that i'm explicitly choosing Hasselblad over Mamiya. The latter is relatively affordable nowadays as it's actually much more bulkier in size and weight, also feel very much flimsy. I wanted something soulful and timeless, i ended up selling the Mamiya, waited and looked for almost a year to find the right Hasselblad. Expensive, yes and worth it! The brainchild of Victor Hasselblad- 500C, hand built this beauty in Sweden, embodies a modular system that allows accessories to be mixed and matched with ease in creating the perfect system for specific assignment.


When i got mine, i was terrified. Everything about this camera was different and so bloody beautiful! I simply couldn't care less paying a little more premium for the nostalgic square box. Every moment it clicks, it grows on me like no other camera ever did. Light meter out, waist prism up, compose, dark slide out, focus and click- REPEAT.

Testing the Little Black Box- Hasselblad Body

It looks deceptively simple, a square cube connects a lens and a film back. Generally, you want to look at the 500-series (also known as V series). Later versions have TTL flash metering and electronic coupling, i simply love the exercise of fully mechanical. Mine is a matching serial 500C with certificate dated to 1969.

When testing the body, the winding action should have a springy resistance, and the shutter action should be crisp- the mirror should get out of the way fast and stay there; same for the secondary shutter curtain at the rear of the body. Note that the mirror doesn't come down until rewind. Check for mirror alignment by turning the lens to infinity, find a distant subject and check for in focus with the magnifier- matching the rangefinder in the little mid-circle. Needless to say, check for dent, and there should be no loose or rattling parts inside- it is absolutely solid.

The Lenses

The body almost always come with the standard Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.8 Planar, it coupled aperture and shutter speed rings. It's either a non-T* or the T* (with fancy coating), the latter is slightly more expensive, high contrast and relatively low flare. I couldn't care less.

Note that the tip of one of the shutter blades may appear bent, this is a design feature to prevent shutters collide and jam at high shutter speeds. The shutter action of a lens should also be snappy and crisp; the slower shutter speeds tend to be where there are problems, so do test it at 1 second speeds with a stopwatch to get an idea if they're in spec. A slight metallic noise when changing shutter speeds is absolutely normal, especially traversing large range of shutter speeds- this is due to the internal spring changing tension.

The Film Back behind the Little Black Box

A12 is the standard back, it gives 6x6 shots on 120 roll, it comes with a dark slide- a piece of metal that slide in between body and back, if you don't have this, you won't be able to detach the film back. It's also to prevent light leaks when interchanging backs. Some sellers will note "matching numbers" which indicate the roller mechanism insides' serial number matches the housing. It doesn't make any functional difference, but it does seems to affect the price a bit more. Look out for a thing called "Dark Slide Holder", it clips your dark slide at the back of the film back. Fugly but functionally useful, seriously useful. I lost my dark slide in Melbourne, it sunk into the white sands of St. Kilda- well, at least that's what i believe, pff!

If you have the almighty buck, there are also digital back available, both from Hasselblad (CFV series backs) and other manufacturers. BUT, none of them make a true 6x6 back, there's always a crop factor. The earlier batch of CFV and Phase backs did have square sensors but a 1.5x crop, like a FX lenses on DX body. While the newer backs like CFV-39 uses.......wait, does it matters? I'm skipping this.

The Viewfinder

Various viewfinders available for a Hasselblad, standard finder is a collapsible waist-level finder. It's a simple flip up hood that prevents stray light hitting the focusing screen and allows comfortable viewing looking down the camera. For a super accurate fine tuning focusing, especially shooting wide open- which i always do, a popup magnifier is built into the top of the hood, released by sliding the catch fully to the right. Note that the viewfinder is laterally reversed on the screen, you probably need some times to get use to it.

There's also eye-level prism finders, metered or unmetered. Enough said. I simply doesn't fancy modification on the nostalgic Hasselblad, i kept it simple.


Unless you have a metered prism finder, the cameras are fully manual and unmetered. It's either you train your eyeballs to the sensitivities of light, or simply- get a light meter. Mine, a pocket-sized Sekonic L-308S, cheap and functional.


To give you an idea, a good condition of 500C/CM, waist level viewfinder, Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.8/T* and A12 back with dark slide should run around $835-950 USD. A little more than the price of a DSLR kit- it can probably outlast you, to your children or grandchildren.

There are many reasons why i love my Hasselblad 500C, the mechanical precision, the substantial quality where you only get from hand-built, love even more of the loud clatter shutter sound and the unmatched quality. Every time i pull a freshly developed roll from the tank, i am blown away by the images, every single time!!!

So when you're getting your first Hasselblad Film Camera, remember not to rush in.

Much been said, the awesomeness of film;
Having the privilege to slow down, appreciate details, nuances and subtleties of crafts.
#buyfilmnotmegapixels #filmisnotdead