Film diaries: A quick introduction to Hasselblad V-series cameras

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Since acquiring and shooting with my 501C, a lot of my readers, students and photography friends have been asking for more information about these beauties. I certainly don’t claim to have the depth of knowledge of some of the longer-lived collectors or photographers, but what follows is a (hopefully) handy collation of what I do know, from the point of view of the practical photographer.

The Hasselblad V series is a system camera: that’s to say that lenses, bodies, finders, backs and other general accessories are interchangeable. The body contains the reflex mirror, film winding mechanism and secondary shutter only, plus a way of triggering and rewinding the leaf shutter in the lens, of course. Lenses of various vintages can be used on all bodies, with varying degrees of functionality. Flash sync terminals – PC sync – are in the lens, since this is triggered mechanically by the leaf shutter. Several types of backs are available, including digital and polaroid (rare) options; the same goes for finders. The ‘classic’ configuration is an 80/2.8 lens, collapsible waist level finder and A12 film back.

Generally, for a shooter, you want to look at buy the 500-series (also known as the V series; includes 500, 500C, 500C/M, 501, 501C, 501C/M, 503CW, 503CX etc). The C means that it uses C-mount lenses which have built in leaf shutters (first Synchro-Compur and later Prontor); anything with /M means upgraded/ modified. The bodies contain the mirror, winding mechanism, and a secondary shutter to prevent light leaks. A nice user is better than a safe queen that’s never been exercised, because you must remember the whole thing is mechanical. Later versions have TTL flash metering and electronic coupling. I would go for either a 501CM or 503 of some description; the 500s are older. Mine is a 501C and dates to 1995; I also have a 1999 501CM. The 501CM and 503CW have upgraded mirror geometry that doesn’t black out at the top portion when used with longer lenses or extension tubes. The electronic 553 and 555 bodies have built in motor drives, but are bulky and eat batteries for breakfast. I think fully mechanical is the way to go; partially because of long-term reliability (gears can be fixed; small-volume electronics is often unrepairable without spares). There are also tilt shift bodies (ArcBody and FlexBody), and a super wide viewfinder camera – the 900 series (903 SWC, 905 SWC and earlier SWC and SWC/M), which has a fixed 38/4.5 Biogon but takes standard backs. Finally, we have the 200-series bodies – these have a built in focal plane curtain shutter that requires batteries to run, but permits much higher (1/2000s) shutter speeds and faster (generally by a stop) lenses; they share the same mount as the regular V series, and V series lenses can be used if the shutter speed is locked to the F position, but not the other way around – the V series require a shutter in the lens to operate, which the 200-series lenses lack.

When testing a body, the winding action should have some springy resistance, and the shutter action should be snappy – the mirror should get out of the way fast, and stay there; same goes for the secondary shutter curtains at the rear of the body. Note that the mirror doesn’t come down again until the camera is rewound. You can check mirror alignment by turning the lens all the way to infinity: find a suitably distant subject and check that it is indeed in focus with the magnifier. (The lenses have hard infinity stops.) Needless to say, there should be no loose or rattling parts inside. Check also that the lens drive shaft on the mount turns when you release the shutter and wind the crank, and that the vertical gear on the right also winds with the crank – this advances the film. Finally, the little lever that protrudes from the body on the bottom right where the back mounts should also be sharp and not worn – this advances the film status indicator.

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Related bodies
The ArcBody and FlexBody are two V-mount bodies that also take the same A-series backs and accessories (but not finders); these have bellows or bags in the middle that permit some technical camera movements; noticeably shifts and tilts. In some ways, they’re miniature view cameras. The ArcBody is primarily geared towards shifts; it has its own accompanying set of Rodenstock lenses and is ideal for architectural work. The FlexBody is mainly for tilts, and DOF control/ product photography or landscape. Personally, if I do move over to medium format for my work, I’d be looking at one of these – they also accept digital backs. Note that both are relatively uncommon and seriously expensive.

The type you want to go with the V series are C T*, CF T*, CFE T* or CFI T* lenses. The earlier C (non T*, i.e. no fancy coating) lenses work too; they’re cheap but low contrast and relatively high flare. The T* lenses denote optics with the Zeiss T* coating – their rendition and performance is much like the modern ZF.2 series. They all also have long back focus distances, so you can mount them on your SLRs too – though the resolving power may not be as high as the latest 35mm optics.

CF lenses are the best bang for the buck. They have coupled aperture/shutter speed rings (with the exception of the 80/2.8 CF T*) and upgraded shutter mechanisms; CFE and CFI lenses are later models with electronic coupling and are several times more expensive than CF, often for no particularly good reason. The bodies almost always come with the standard 80mm – it has a similar diagonal FOV as a 50mm on 35mm, but you have to remember it’s a little bit different because you’re comparing square to 3:2 aspect ratios. The good lenses – all CF or higher – are the 40/4 Distagon FLE, the 50/4 Distagon FLE, the 80/2.8 Planar, 120/4 Makro-Planar, 150/4 Sonnar and 180/4 Sonnar. These are roughly 24, 28, 45-50, 85, 100 and 120 equivalents. The FLE lenses have a separate correction ring for optimising close-range performance.

Note that the tip of one of the shutter blades may appear bent in the lens; this is a design feature to prevent catching at high shutter speeds. The shutter action of a lens should be snappy and crisp; the slower speeds tend to be where there are problems, so it can be beneficial to test the 1/2 and 1 second speeds with a stopwatch to get an idea if they’re roughly within spec. A slightly metallic noise when changing shutter speeds is normal, especially if you are traversing large ranges of shutter speeds – this is just the internal springs changing tension. Be very, very vigilant for broken drive shafts – these cost a fortune to fix!

One final note on lenses: they require bayonet filter adaptors (designated B-something) which allow you to mount standard screw-in filters. I suppose this is for ease of changing in case the threads get munched up, but it can be a pain if you’ve lost the bayonet ring. Fortunately, they take mostly standard sizes – except for the 4/40 Distagon, which requires an enormous 93mm (!!) filter.

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Three main kinds: A12, A16 and A24. There’s also an A70 bulk rolling back – it has a 200-shot capacity. The number denotes # of shots; A12 and A16 work with 120 film, and A24 works with thinner 220 film; it has no paper backing for twice the number of shots. Note however you can’t buy 220 film here anymore (update: I did see fresh Provia 100 in 220 at Yodobashi in Tokyo in November 2013), so it’s kinda useless – don’t buy an A24. You can load 120 film into an A24, but the difference in length means that it won’t wind or count frames properly. Just avoid it. The A12 is the standard back and gives 12 6×6 shots on a 120 roll. The A16 is a 645 back that gives 16 shots per 120 roll, but requires a separate viewfinder mask to show only the 645 film area – this should be included if you plan to buy an A16. Note that it’s not very practical because shooting a waist level finder in portrait orientation is nearly impossible. Backs should come with dark slides – the little piece of metal that goes between body and back – if you don’t have this, you can’t detach the back. It’s to prevent light leaks when interchanging backs – the ability to do this mid-roll is one of the huge strengths of the system. Buy multiple backs to make the most of this. Note: some sellers will note ‘matching numbers’ which means the roller mechanism inside’s serial # matches the housing – it doesn’t make any functional difference, but it does seems to affect prices quite a bit. If you’re going to use it and not collect it, it doesn’t matter.

You might see something called a ‘Lindahl dark slide holder’ mentioned – this is a clip on that goes on the back of the back (really) that holds your dark slide while you’re shooting. It’s functionally useful, but I personally think it looks ugly because it spoils the lines of the camera. A better solution is just to tuck the dark slide into your wallet.

There are also many digital options, both from Hasselblad (the CFV series backs) and other manufacturers. Note that none of them make a true 6×6 back; there’s always some crop factor involved. The earlier CFV and Phase backs did have square sensors, but these were 1.5x crop, 37x37mm affairs that were much like using FX lenses on a DX body. The newer backs – CFV-39 and CFV-50 – use 645 aspect ratio sensors in a 1.1x horizontal crop, and a 1.5x square crop. They are accompanied by viewfinder masks that I personally find very confusing – much like trying to compose with an overlaid tennis court. Note that some backs have sync issues with purely mechanical triggering, especially if your shutter mechanism is a bit worn. The solution is to use the PC sync cable off the lens to synchronise it with the back, but this can result in issues like worn terminals from frequent lens changes, and lack of anywhere to hook up your flash.

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There are two kinds: prism and waist level. Waist level is the collapsible, left-right reversed type with a built in magnifier. It’s the standard finder. Prism finders come in metered (PME-x) flavours and unmetered flavours (PM3, PM5). It’s basically an enormous SLR finder, but in 45 degree and 90 degree (the later PME-90) flavours. They’re all interchangeable, once you take the back off. Note that the prisms are meters only, and do not transfer the settings to the camera – you still have to do that manually.

Unless you have a metered finder, the cameras are fully manual and unmetered. This means using a trained eyeball, or getting a meter prism; otherwise, the simplest solution is to use a compact camera in aperture priority mode with spot meter set. Match apertures and ISO, then transfer the shutter speed reading to the lens. Important note: if you’re using a compact, I’ve found that the Hasselblad requires half a stop to a stop less shutter speed than the compact for the same exposure (i.e. if the compact reads 1/100s, the ‘blad will use 1/150-1/200s). This is partially due to the tonal response characteristics of film, and partially due to the transmission properties of the lens: T* coated V lenses have a T stop very close to their physical F stop, whereas compacts usually don’t because of inferior coatings or complex designs with large numbers of elements.

This is perhaps the most sensitive/ subjective topic here, but to give you an idea – a solid user condition 500CM, waist level finder, 80/2.8 CF T* or C T* and A12 back should run under a US$1,000. Price varies depending on variant and condition, of course. Later models like the 503 series will of course cost more – sometimes considerably so. That said, I still find it pretty amazing that you can buy a camera of this quality at little more than the price of a consumer DSLR kit – and you can be sure that the ‘Blad will outlast you, and probably your children. I don’t know what happened to the millions of 300D Digital Rebels they made, but I suspect that most bit the dust a long time ago.

Important notes:

  • The shutter should be stored in a cocked state, i.e. wind the back after every shot.
  • VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT MOUNT OR UNMOUNT THE LENS IF THE SHUTTER IS NOT COCKED. The drive shaft for the lens (to cock the leaf shutter in the lens) can break if it is not in the correct orientation.
  • The dark slide needs to be inserted before removing the back
  • The dark slide needs to be removed before shooting (shutter button is blocked)
  • When you shoot, hold down the shutter button – do not release it immediately after pressing. The secondary curtains in the body only stay open as long as the button is held down.
  • Don’t lose or bend your dark slides; you won’t be able to insert them, and without the dark slide in, you can’t remove the back, and there’s nothing to block the shutter from firing accidentally in a bag. Get spares, if you can.
  • Always wind the camera before attaching a back – if not, when you wind it, you’ll lose a frame. The right procedure for assembling a camera is 1. wind body; 2. attach lens (check that the little slot in the lens’ mount lines up with the dot, if it doesn’t, use a coin or screwdriver to turn it in the direction of the arrow – this is to cock the lens shutter); 3. slide in finder of choice; 4. load and attach back – this is a whole separate section on its own.

I’m now wondering how many of you are going to give it a try…MT

The best place to find vintage gear is on the secondary market in Japan – send an email to Bellamy Hunt of Japan Camera Hunter; he can source to spec and budget. I get a good chunk of my stuff from him and can’t recommend him highly enough. Send him an email and tell him Ming sent you!


Enter the January 2012 black and white challenge – win a multispectral Sony NEX-5 B&W machine modified by yours truly!

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  1. Sir, you mention, “The shutter should be stored in a cocked state, i.e. wind the back after every shot.” With this, can it be months? or even years?

    • Yes, that may be possible. But I fire all of mine a couple of times a month – who knows how they were previously treated?

    • ralf weber says:

      Hi Ming, I noticed in your gear list that the Hasselbl. 4/50 FLE is among your gems. I do own the CFI 50 version of it.
      Would like to go a bit wider and consider a used CFE 40 FLE ( non IF version) and get rid of the 50. Do you have any
      experience with both 40 versions IF and non IF and also how do they compare to the 50? At this time I’m shooting only
      film but will go digital with a 50mp cmos when prices will come down a bit. I read a post on the web that there will be
      no visible difference once the lenses are stopped down to F8 and beyond. I feel the same way like you about the V
      system. So nice to work with these lovely machines🤗
      Many thanks in advance, cheers Ralf

      • I had the 40 FLE and wasn’t that happy with it – corner performance is disappointing. The 50 FLE is much better.

        • ralf weber says:

          Thank you much for your input! Have u had a chance to checkout the cfe 40 IF?

          • Unfortunately not – I wish! They’re extremely rare it seems…

            • ralf weber says:

              Do you think with introduction of the 50mp cmos back that we are at the end for the V system? Does it make any sense
              to develop higher res backss for the relatively old V lenses? Would love to see a 100mp version for it. How difficult would
              it be to adapt a back for the H to the V if they dont come up with one?

              • Yes, because the demand for the CFV exceeded expectations – that’s the reason it’s still alive. The CFV has always used the same platform as the H backs, so I don’t think it would be too difficult for them to make a 100MP version with touch screen and H6 interface should they choose to 🙂

                The right V lenses have no problem with 50MP, and I suspect more – I’ll find out soon enough when I adapt some to the H6-100.

  2. seablister says:

    In some of the photos of your V bodies, I see a bright (looks like polished aluminum?) grip. Could you comment on what it is and where one can be obtained.

    Years ago, I used a HB “flash bracket/grip” but it took up a lot of space and didn’t feel all that good in my hand.

    • It’s exactly what it appears to be – a grip with two Arca-compatible rails on each side of the body. This facilitates handling with the rectangular sensor and 90deg prism. I designed it myself, had it machined from 6000-series aluminium and polished it to match the body finish over the course of about half a day. I’m thinking of offering a small run of these (unpolished, it’s just too much work) if there is sufficient interest.

      • seablister says:

        count me among those seriously interested in your custom machined grip.

        • Okay. The problem is it cost me about $500 to make because of the machining time, and excluding polishing time, so it might land up being rather costly. I don’t think a quantity of 10 would be enough to bring the cost down, either.

  3. Dear Sir, I’m about to ” enter ” the Hasselblad system, my aim is portrait photography with a limited DOF( !), I’d love to hear your opinion about the 80/2.8 CF T lens, is it recommendable for this purpose / a high quality one, or do yoy have any other suggestions ?
    By thae way, thank you for this great article !!!!!!


    • I’ve got one – works for me! However, if you are shooting with film (i.e. full 6×6 and not the cropped digital formats) then you might also want to look at the CF 4/150.

  4. Hi Ming: I’ve become more than a little obsessed with beautiful old film cameras of late. What seemed prohibitively expensive back in the day has been put within reach thanks to so much interest in digital. I now own cameras I never thought possible: Hasselblad, Leica. Not only are they are beautiful objects in an of themselves, but are still so much fun to use.

    I noticed that some of your film posts mention “scanned with a Nikon D800.” I assume that you are shooting your negatives and slides with you digital camera rather than scanning. I’d imagine your reasons include speed. But I’d love to know more about your workflow, gear and recommendations for getting film over to digital.

    I’ve been looking at things like the very pricy “Film Toaster” vs buying vintage Pentax slide copier macro kits, to flatbed. I’d love to do 35mm, 2.25 and even 4×5.

    Thanks, as always, for your wonderful site!

    • I have a custom rig to hold the camera a fixed distance away from the film, parallel, and maintains tension on the film for flatness. The whole thing sits on a lightbox with a flash inside it. That’s about it…not much good beyond 6×6 as I think at that size, the film contains slightly more information than the D800 (after cropping square).

      • I am lucky to own a FLEXTIGHT scanner, It is expensive, but really something that brings the best of Film photographyto useand into Photoshop to further explore.. regards Jukka

  5. Hey,

    Im on the lookout for a camera in the V-series and this article was really helpfull in figuring out the differences between the different cameras. Your photos of them are great too.
    However, do you happen to know if the viewfinder in the 500CM is as good/bright as the one in the 501CM (opposed to the one in the 500C)?
    Also, I’m not sure if I got this right but will the 500C/M let you know when your out of film, but the 501CM dont?

    Again, Thanks.

    • Difficult one to answer as the finder chimneys, focusing screens and backs are all interchangeable – so if at some point the camera you’re looking at has had parts swapped out, it could be brighter/darker etc.

  6. Thanks for sharing your expereience with the hasselblad. I am just starting this journey with a medium format, settled on a hasselblad, but researching for the best setup for my money. Been offered a nice 501cm with 80mm plus a 150mm lens. Love these photos.

  7. some great tips here ! thank you

  8. Great write up. Just picked up a 501c recently and I love it.

  9. hello Ming, thanks a lot for this review. I actually have oportunity to have this V system with digital back phase one P45+. I tested this system and was very impressed with image quality..on other side you must working very different wayy
    Ming does it make sense go totay to bought this combination or will be better to have pentax 645z ?

  10. Great introduction to the V System! I went ahead and got a 501C with an 80mm C T* Zeiss Planar Lens and A12 back for $1,000 on eBay in immaculate condition. Before committing to buy one I rented a 503CW from TREC Rentals in NYC. It was my first time shooting 120 film. I shot three rolls and was absolutely mesmerized by the results. Really looking forward to shooting a lot more.

  11. Ming, thank you so much for the concise no nonsense primer. I just rented a 503cw (try before you buy) and look forward to a deep dive for the rest of the week.

  12. I’m curious if Hasselblad’s announcement of a new CFV-50 back for the V-system makes you re-think the Pentax. Clearly, these are different tools, and it won’t be weather-sealed, but the announcement makes me think that in light of the ghastly Lunar fiasco maybe they are pivoting to proven systems and a loyal fan base. Perhaps the V-system isn’t dead to its makers after all.

    A guy can hope anyway. And while 15k is out of my price range right now, it makes me excited to see what the future holds.

    • Yes and no – I’m excited because it means we might eventually get a 6×6 back, but I’m not excited about the price or crop factor. None of their lenses were designed to work on 33×44 and land up offering very strange fields of view. Plus 15k is less than the entire Pentax system including lenses and body…

      • I would be ecstatic over a 6×6 back, even if it only had fewer megapixels (~30MP would be amazing I think). And I guess I should clarify and say 15k isn’t in my price range for a 33×44 back, at least while I have film to shoot. If they came out with a similarly priced full sensor back, I’d figure out a way to afford it.

  13. I’ve always been worried these cameras would be too heavy or bulk for me, I’ve used a Leica M6 for years now. Recently however after wanting a change and seeing 120 films is cheaper and more available than 35mm I went for something I once lusted after… an SWC. I just got back from using it for a week in France and I just love it, not bulky at all, and although the V system is a little bigger, I’m definitely going to get one too.

    Great article, very useful, excellent website!

    • Modern DSLRs seem to have grown so much in size of late that the V system actually isn’t that big. It packs smaller than my D800E/Otus, and even if it didn’t, I’d still use it when I could simply because the experience is so different; now that is a viewfinder!

      • Yeah I can’t get away from DSLRS and once had a 5D MKIII which was awesome. I’m on the Olympus OMD EM1 now which packs a suitable punch without making me feel like I’m over doing it with gear. I’m a camera snob too and don’t like to carry what everyone else carries. The SWC has already started umpteen conversations and even shouts across the room, it’s like medium format is a tribe or something! Love it!

        • If you know what it is, you know what it is. But it’s also not a showpiece in the same way a Leica is; those things are tools. And they subconsciously make you aware you’ve got to up your game…

          • Having something that makes me feel comfortable is key to my enjoyment. It needs to get out of the way of the moment, which the Leica always has and why I’ve had it for ten years now. I love the simplicity, I think that’s why I admire these particular tools. I love that film has a built in colour pallet too that I can get to know and pre-visulise in, that’s part of the simplicity equation for me too. Not to rag on digital of course.

  14. Maarten says:

    Own a Hasselblad 501C for about one and a half year now and I’m very impressed.

    Since 2011 I started using film as a photographic medium again. Years ago I sold almost everything analogue I owned and bought a Canon EOS 5D and some fixed focals. Tried some other DSLRs as well.
    After taking pictures for a few years the digital way, I decided to try my Canon A-1 (film SLR) and bought an Epson V700 scanner. The results were good. In the beginning I was struggling to get the best out of my scanner but I continued because I liked the way of taking pictures with my A-1 and FTb.
    Now I get the results I’ve always wanted but never really got while working with those digital (still video in fact) cameras. So for me film is the way to go, much more fulfilling, much more fun, better results but a slower workflow.

    The Hasselblad 501C took it all up to a new level, excellent glass and because of the negative’s size a much higher resolution compared to 135 film.
    Pleasant to work with. All the bells and whistles one doesn’t need aren’t there on that thing, it makes me think more before taking a shot.

  15. I read this article about a month ago and it motivated me to try medium format. I got a 501c and the 80/2.8, and I took it on a hiking trip. When I pulled it out to take some shots of an Indian petroglyph site, I was instantly the most popular person in the group. “Where do you even buy film these days?” was a common question, followed by “that is so beautiful” and “I miss film.”
    I loved it though, and I was decently pleased with the images. I think I’ll be springing for the 50/4 at least, and we’ll see after I work through the three boxes of film I picked up. Thanks for the guide!

  16. Les Hanson says:

    Nice article even though its a year old. I would to uplead some pictures for you to view my work horses for the past 30 years. Any way to do that?

  17. Great detailed article. I am going to look for one now…

  18. Hi, My oldest hasselblad in 1968.. A few comments: 1) Don`t mess with the Chrome barrel hassy lenses that have the Compur shutter… hasselblad and Zeiss sold all the spare parts for them recently, so no service available for them.
    2) you omitted the 70mm film back. It is the greatest feature of the motorized ELX… load 200 frames of 70mm film in a cassette (thin base Aerocon II reconnaise film) wrap a plastic bag round the body and lens, just the shade and inder sticking out and go out in whatever weather and shoot… Ig you haven`t got the picture you were after those 200 frames, you can as well give up hte whole business of photography…

    • 1) That is my experience too, but I hadn’t had a chance to use many at the time I wrote this originally 🙂
      2) Noted – updated! It may take you a while to finish 200 frames in a ‘Blad though – that’s about what I’d shoot in a week and a half!

  19. Hello! I am so thankful to have come across your blog, Ming. I will bookmark & come back often!

    I read in earlier comments- one fellow didn’t have a normal size sync port on the side of his camera. My C/M500 is also without a standard sync port. I think there may be some other sized port on the side opposite the crank below the camera’s name plate. If you know anything about this could you let me know. I want to use this my camera with strobes & was incredibly disappointing that it didn’t have a standard size port on the side of the body. There is one on the lens, but that is not as convenient.

    Thank you SO much! I appreciate any information you can give me!


  20. Dennis Ng says:

    I use 203fe for quite awhile. It got exposure meter and hence no need of the heavy prism. I did put aside it for quite awhile fully expect the battery gone. But it did not. Just have a walk with it. May do a Polaroid run tomorrow to test the meter. Btw, there are web site that for old manual of hasselblad.

  21. I had the pleasure of borrowing an original 500 with worn out 12-backs (not A12, 12, the manual ones) last summer during my internship. It was fantastic, especially when I got few of the FP4+ shots scanned “properly” to 74mpx files. If I can ever justify myself getting one, I definitely will.

  22. I rented a 500 ELX this summer, without the manual and close to no explanation about how ti works.
    it was a nightmare. Hard to use, very easy to block.

  23. Hasselblad made a Bay60-67mm adapter which allows CF lens users to use 67mm standard filters. Should be available second hand.

    • Indeed. I’ve got one, actually. Though admittedly I rarely use filters and its far more useful as something to hold a pinch front cap instead of that odd bayonet one…

  24. As a long time pro user of the V-Series, permit me a couple of thoughts: Yes, these were predominantly used on tripods, but I’ve made THOUSANDS of images handheld covering events. Metering, as you point out, is accomplished with a metered prism (reading in EV) then transferred to the lens manually OR with a nandheld meter. Preferably with an incident dome.

    Regarding proper exposure of film, please keep in mind that to have a printable neg, one must exposure for shadow detail (and let highlights overexpose). This is counter to DSLR exposure, which needs care to avoid highlight overexposure.

    • Completely agree on the handheld part, though my best results have still been on a suitable tripod. Your comment on exposing for shadows is interesting though – would this still apply if your end goal is for scanning and digitisation rather than printing?

      • Building density on neg film is done by giving enough light to the shadow areas. Transparency (slide) film is exposed for highlights-like digital. This reduces the effective ISO of neg film and is why some shooters “rate” a certain emulsion at a lower speed or seemingly overexpose neg film. Google Film D-Max for more info.

  25. Nice little summary, Ming.

    I used a Hasselblad for a long time and one thing you have not yet touched on is the cost of maintaining them. Mechanical systems often require more upkeep than most, and those costs can be quite dear.

    Why did I ultimately sell my Hassy? For what I received for my 503CW+80mm CF+backs, I was able to build out a full Mamiya RZ67ii system, (body, prism, 4 lenses, 3 backs, focusing screen, winder, etc)… and keep about 30% of what I got for the Hasselblad. The Mamiya system is just as good (maybe not as handholdable), and some of the professions finest and most prolific photographers have sworn by it for years. Until, you know, they switched to digital…

  26. Good ‘survey’ article Ming!

    I’d suggest a read of Oleg Novikov’s site from here to help with the HB system character and lens selection. Aside from the CB series of short-lived, uneven, pro-sumer lenses, most pick their lenses by the focal length that works for their style. This isn’t the confusing CaNikon approach, where you need to spend months figuring out which of their lenses work well with your body. Hasselblad/Zeiss are about confidence.

    You are appropriately sticking to the latest gear, but if folks want to dabble in HB, early “C” gear is ridiculously inexpensive and generally the same glass as the newer models. Most are single coated, not T* multi, but this is not generally a problem – you can get 98% of the performance of the later gear and if you like good machinery, they are all metal and built from spare battleship components. The little loss in contrast can be made up the modern way, in post. There are frightening comments on the web about spare parts availability from HB, but these aren’t consumer products – they last, and there is a secondary repair market. (The lenses are so inexpensive in the first place, it is probably cheaper just to buy a spare than repair.) Later HB lens lines are lamentably a bit cheaper looking in comparison, with painted lettering that easily scratches and wears off, and plastic bits.

    While mixing generations of lenses isn’t a bad thing, it’s a pain when it comes to filters. The old “C” lenses are mostly bayonet 50 (B50) and most of the later generations are bayonet 60 (B60). The exceptions you have to check are the 40mm, 50mm and 350mm (and up), which vary within and by generation (Series 93, B70 and other weirdness).

    Notably, CF and up SWCs are B60, which works nicely into a 38, 60 (or 80), and 150 (or 180) kit. (Early SWCs are Series 63)

    I have mostly 77mm filters and use 77mm>B60 adapters now for all lenses. One set works with all.

  27. I shoot primarily Leica Cameras (M Monochrom, M9-P and M6-J). I haven’t ventured off into other cameras as I don’t want to go down the path of a new series of lenses but if I did I would get a Hasselblad. They are such cool cameras.

  28. this will have to be a 2014 project! Always been interested in MF though 2013 is my first move into RF world.Just purchased an M6 with 50 lux ASPH, so concentrate on that for the year ahead.

    I noticed you didn’t mention the 200 series Ming. Battery munchers……Thoughts here?

    • A couple of reasons – lack of experience, yes, battery munching, and the feeling that they’re kind of hybrid cameras which tried to automate things but in a sort of transitional way. I suppose I feel the same way about the Nikon F3 and F4 – they’re great cameras but lack the mechanical feel of the earlier models. Since this is one the appealing things about the Hasselblads, it (personally) doesn’t make sense to look at an electronic one. That and the fact that they appear to be significantly more expensive than the 500 series…

      • The oh-so-smooth Nikon F3 uses manual helicoid focus lenses with aperture rings and probably has the best mechanical feel of the film transport mechanism of any Nikon body. Isn’t it the electric motors for autofocus and film transport of the Nikon F4 and later models that causes the lack the mechanical feel of the earlier models?

      • No question that your F2 Titan is drop dead gorgeous and that the primitive LCD detracts from the Nikon F3, but when evaluating smoothness in film transport, the Photography in Malaysia website writes: “I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I said the Nikon F3 has the smoothest film advance among all manual focus camera bodies … Through the use of eleven ball bearings in its shutter and film winding assemblies (most cameras use only one or two) the F3 represents a big advance in smooth and quiet operation. And to reduce film winding torque even more, Nikon created a completely new film winding mechanism and interconnecting gear trains for the most efficient transmission of energy.”

    • The Hasselblad 200 series V bodies with focal plane shutters allows faster f/2-f/2.8 lenses, for example, the terrific Zeiss 110mm f/2, can use FE lenses with electrical contacts, has some models that include in body light metering and exposure automation (for example, aperture priority), has larger mirrors that don’t vignette the viewfinder, and the reflex mirror immediately returns so that the viewfinder doesn’t go dark after each exposure as it does with the 500 series.

  29. The article reads like a meditation on the potential of existence… Why I hear Osho’s voice when reading it actually cracks me up… I’ve never shot with film, except when I was a kid (younger) with throw-aways. The ‘Blads have always been on the radar since getting into digital. I finally have a full-framer in the A99 and the shooting experience is remarkably different than with my APS-C’s and smaller from days gone by…

    I just got my Rokinon 85/1.4 yesterday and went out with it last night on A1A if Ft. Lauderdale. Set the 99 on manual, set my focus peaking to red, limited the ISO to 3200 and a very cool thing happened… My brain shifted into considering the beloved exposure triangle between ISO, SS and A, while working with the focus peaking feature. It was an entirely different experience then anything I’ve had previously. Yes, I’ve had these things in the foreground of my mind in the past, but with the fully-manual R85, things were different. I need a lot of practice, but was gaining some mastery with it rather quickly. I’m picking up two manual Rokkors this morning: a 28/2.8 and a 50/1.7. I can only imaging what this vintage glass will do, given the juiciness of the 85.

    I kinda think that the experiences with these fly-by-hand lenses will help me prepare for a ‘Blad once my bank account recovers from this year’s digital acquisitions. Having the ability to stink up the house with film developing solutions also has some appeal, and to date, I don’t have a wife to bitch about the smell 🙂 I’ve been looking at scanners, but your light table affair with DSLR looks appealing. Doesn’t that mess with the overall aspect ratio of the negatives, though? What is the ideal way to get your negatives into digital? I have no idea what film processing is available in Costa Rica, but you can bet, in the coming days, that I’ll be looking into it.

    Thoughts to ponder… Thank you for a beautifully insightful adventure. I’ll be ‘a havin’ one of these sexy beasties soon enough.

    • No problem. Scanning with a DSLR changes the aspect ratio, but I just include the whole frame on the shortest edge and crop square – net result is about 20MP or so from the D800e. The blad is much easier to focus and use in full manual in general than any DSLR – it was designed that way from the start. Shutter and aperture rings are coupled to maintain a given EV, and all three – focus, shutter and aperture – are daily manipulated with one hand as everything is on the lens barrel. Wouldn’t worry overmuch about local labs if you don’t have a wife to complain about the smell 🙂

      • Have you considered adding extension tubes to your method to crop into the negatives then stitching the parts back together? The results might be surprising.


  30. Franco Morante (Adelaide, South Australia) says:

    I used to use a 500CM in the 80’s, but no, I don’t think I’ll be rushing out to buy another Blad anytime soon. Without doubt, Hasselblad film cameras were mechanical masterpieces and reliable workhorses. Had I kept mine, I’d certainly treasure it but it would remain behind glass. Nowadays, I feel happier working within a digital workflow. Digital is quick, cheap and convenient. Moreover, I am able to produce superior images using my Nikon D800E than I ever could with 6×6 safety film (even with the highest care in the darkroom). About the most I miss from my old days of film is the distinctive ‘clunking’ sound of the Hasselblad mirror and the stelf-like leaf shutter. In a strange sort of way, I also miss the smell of darkroom chemistry …

    I am enjoying your blog Ming. Your articles are consistently of high quality. Thank you.

    • No problem. I wouldn’t use film for commercial or critical work either – unless specifically requested by the client and they are aware of the risks – but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the process for my own work. And yes, there’s something extremely satisfying about the mechanics and solidity of it all.

  31. Ming

    Thanks for the information on the lenses. Particularly about the CFE & CFI lenses.

    One point about Hassleblad bodies that you did not mention is, the mirror can be raised prior (known as pre-release) to pressing the shutter release. This feature, plus working off a tripod will give maximum sharpness.

    Concerning leaf shutter lenses, once they get some age the shutter generally run slow, especially at the faster settings. This is not very unusual even new, since the accuracy standard for a mechanical leaf shutter is +/- 20%. The key to good exposures is that the shutter speeds are consistent. If the shutter drags (runs slow or sticks), or is inconsistent, it should be cleaned.

    Concerning the A24 back and 220 film. I am not certain if this film configuration is made anymore, as I have not been able to find it on line the last time I looked at B&H, etc. Though, 220 film is (was) the same thickness as 120. The difference is 220 does not have a full length paper backing like 120. On 220 the paper is attached at the ends of the film to make the roll light tight. This allows double the film in the same overall roll diameter.

    Finally, having a light meter is not a necessity. Using the exposure recommendations printed inside the film box will get you very close. Though I have heard there is a light meter Ap for the iPhone.


    • Thanks for the info. Yes, the Hasselblad bodies have a mirror lockup function – it’s the little tab under the winding crank.

      I believe 220 film is completely discontinued, which is why the A24 backs are about 1/5th the price of A12s – they’re effectively useless. Aside from the frame counter differences, I believe the loading marks/ calibration are different, too.

      Meters aren’t necessary unless you’re shooting slide film. There are iPhone apps available, but to be honest most of the time I just eyeball it.

  32. I’ve always admired pictures OF and pictures FROM Hasselblad cameras. I got to hold a Hasselblad in my hands for the first time just a few months ago. You know that intuitive feeling of right or wrong – this felt really right in my hands. I snapped a couple of shots (that I never got to see) and it felt solid and timeless. Given that it’s relatively more affordable than Leica (and I see that there is a decent secondary market in Hong Kong for them), it’s very tempting to plunge into this area. The only question is – do I go back to shooting film after leaving it for more than a decade? Would it provide some real value as an adjunct to what I’m doing now? Very possibly. Thanks (or maybe no thanks!) for providing this information and making this seem like a potential option.

    • No problem. All I can add is that even I you don’t shoot much with it, you can certainly appreciate it as a beautiful object in its own right…and not lose to much (if anything at all) on the secondary market later on.

  33. There are relatively inexpensive PC Sync Adapters that allow connecting more than one PC Sync cord. That would be a good solution for activating a digital back and triggering lighting gear simultaneously.

    • Turns out the back has another sync port on it, but it takes a very specific type of cable. In any case, unless somebody makes a full frame 6×6 back anytime soon, I very much doubt I’ll be going digital with it.

      • The 500 C and C/M bodies that I’ve had have their own PC sync port (side opposite the winding crank, below the model badge). I’ve used either the lens or the body port for stobes with identical results. If the digital back yields another port, then that makes three.

        • My 501C only has one port on the lens – I guess I got the discount model 🙂

          As for the digital back, it has another sync port but doesn’t use a standard PC socket.

      • I’ve entertained the idea of a Leaf Aptus 22 back paired with a 503, but it really is a bit clunky to use. Definitely not good for a flow of images. The cost on the refurb (from manufacturer) digital backs is getting to reasonable levels. Oh well, maybe I will look at combinations again next year.

        • The problem is that as soon as prices fall to reasonable levels on MF digital, technology in smaller formats seems to leap forward another generation. The pixel level architecture in say the D800e is pretty far ahead of the current MF backs…and this gap plus better usability leaves me unable to commit to MF digital. If you bought an older back at this point, I’m really not sure there’d be any quality advantage over cutting edge full frame. That said, I could live with all of the disadvantages if there was a full frame 6×6 back…

          • A different issue is diffraction limits for pixel cell site dimensions. Once the pixels get smaller, then the smallest aperture one can use becomes more limited. It’s an aspect not without controversy, and maybe people disagree with this. I would tend to prefer using smaller apertures, which means somewhere near 8µm pixels. That puts me in 12 to 16 MP on 35mm DSLR, or near 22 to 28 MP on medium format digital backs. Of course for photographers who shoot more wide open than f8.0 it may be rare to ever run into this issue.

  34. Linden Wilkie says:

    I’m sure this all becomes second nature, even if it seems rather daunting to those of us now so spoiled in the digital age. But, given film size is the analogue proxy for digital sensor size, the potential is superior. Like you, it seems amazing to me that this is not the most expensive analogue option, equipment-wise, though shot-per-shot film, and processing is of course higher – about 3 x times 135mm shot per shot costs.

    I’m keen to give it a go! The question remains, what to focus on – B&W, C41 or E6? Portraits, landscapes/architecture and still life seem the right subjects (rather than sports and street – though I know there as those that do the latter!).

    • You’re also getting about 3.5 times the negative area, so I suppose it’s fair on a cost-per-area basis. I too was surprised by how cheap they are – though the 903SWC remains scarily expensive. To put things in perspective – my entire kit consisting of one 501C, two backs, one prism finder, the 50 FLE, 80 and 120 macro lenses plus extension tubes – all in excellent + to mint minus condition – cost less than my Noct-Nikkor or D800e body alone. Go figure.

      As for subjects, I’m not restricting myself and just shooting whatever comes naturally. I doubt I’ll be doing much sport, but street is definitely fair game, and it seems to be exceptionally well suited to B&W portraits and still life.


  1. […] series was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CFV-50c, 80 and 150mm lenses and post processed with Photoshop Workflow […]

  2. […] series was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CFV-50c, 80 and 150mm lenses and post processed with Photoshop Workflow […]

  3. […] series was shot with various cameras and lenses including a Canon 100D, Hasselblad 501CM/CVF-50c and H5D-50C, and H6D-50c, various lenses and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass […]

  4. […] My review of the back (same internals as the H5D) is here, and guide to the V system here. […]

  5. […] series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and CFV-50c on a 501CM, and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow […]

  6. […] Hasselblad V might be 100% manual, but it’s also every bit as responsive as the latest generation digitals: […]

  7. […] for Hasselblad) while my V was being repaired; I initially planned to go with the my 501CM (V series) with the Leica Q serving as primary, but in hindsight, I’m not sure I’d have had any […]

  8. […] for Hasselblad) while my V was being repaired; I initially planned to go with the my 501CM (V series), but in hindsight, I’m not sure I’d have had any keepers at all. Light levels aside, […]

  9. […] Ming Thein Lens Guide Loading Film Basic Operation of a 500cm (note: his camera is slightly different from mine) A more in-depth look at the 500CM […]

  10. […] I for one didn’t see it coming, especially after they announced the official death of the V system last year, citing lack of demand. I suspect that the real truth was lack of demand at the prices […]

  11. […] this in mind, using the CFV is a unique experience. You have a 100% mechanical camera – any V series body –  and lens on the front that’s of course capable of operating without batteries and […]

  12. […] thrown in from the Ricoh GR and 21mm converter – there isn’t anything that wide for the Hasselblad V system other than the SWC, whose lens doesn’t really play nice with digital backs anyway. I […]

  13. […] shooting for myself, I want it all, just in case. Perhaps that’s why I like the old Hasselblad V series cameras so much: they’re simple, robust, rugged, have great finders, and bringing along an […]

  14. […] architecture. Hasselblad 501C on Ilford Delta 100 […]

  15. […] architecture. Hasselblad 501C on Ilford Delta 100 […]

  16. […] architecture. Hasselblad 501C on Ilford Delta 100 […]

  17. […] Hasselblad system – 501C, 50/4 CF FLE, 80/2.8 CF, 120/4 CF lenses (this was before my digital back or 150mm arrived; I’d definitely have liked a bit more working room between me and some of the hotter areas than the 120 could give). Also a cable release, my Voigtlander VC-Meter II and three film magazines – one loaded with 100, one loaded with something faster (400 or 800) and a spare. […]

  18. […] and the gliding mirror geometry of the 503CW to prevent vignetting with longer lenses. (I have a brief intro to the Hasselblad V series here.) It’s my pick of the bunch because a) I have no intention of using it with TTL flash, and b) […]

  19. […] and it’s faster to ‘scan’, too.) Most of my film work has been focused around the Hasselblad V system; the cameras are a pleasure to use, and the complete lack of automation of any sort forces you to […]

  20. […] Since acquiring and shooting with my 501C, a lot of my readers, students and photography friends have been asking for more information about these beauties. I certainly don’t claim to have the depth of knowledge of some of the longer-lived collectors or photographers, but what follows is a (hopefully) handy collation of what I do know, from the point of view of the practical photographer.  […]

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