FD Shooting with the legends: The Hasselblad 501CM

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There are two cameras that are synonymous with 6×6 medium format film: the Rolleiflex TLR, and the Hasselblad V series. (I may well do a piece on the former in the future). Today’s subject, however, is one of the final incarnations of the V line – the 501CM. I suppose you could think of it as the distilled essence of the V series – unlike the 503s, it lacks TTL flash metering; unlike the 200-series, it still relies on a lens-based leaf shutter and remains completely mechanical. But at the same time, the camera has interchangeable focusing screens 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) I’d rather not have to rely on electronics in any way – there are modern digitals for that…

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Continuing the car analogy, I suppose one could think of the V series as being like the Porsche 911 – frequently changed in small but meaningful ways, but always instantly identifiable as being of the same lineage; the 501CM is therefore the stripped-down lightweight version with everything you need and nothing more – a 911GT3 with manual transmission and rollcage; or perhaps that’s the black version. It’s a serious camera for serious photography: you know this from the moment you pick it up because it feels solid and all-of-a-piece. Don’t let the chrome fool you into thinking otherwise. Both black and chrome versions are seriously beautiful cameras; I have a 501C and 501CM; the former is black with grey griptac, and the latter is original chrome/black – there’s an elegance about the chrome/black that reminds me of the trim details of classic Continental cars from the late 60’s.

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I’m going to be very forthright here: these are not intuitive cameras to shoot at all. The first time you pick one up, it’ll probably confuse you: challenge number one is merely figuring out how to hold it. The manual states that you’re supposed to use your left hand to cradle body and lens, with your left index finger on the shutter release. The right hand operates the lens rings and winding crank. I find that this position is counterintuitive to an SLR user because the right hand normally holds/ winds/ shoots, and the left hand operates the lens; for the V series, if you’re not careful when using your left hand, your thumb can also accidentally depress the lens release – something that should definitely not be followed by turning the lens, because it will dismount! I prefer to cradle body and lens in my left hand, using my left hand for adjustments and my right hand to shoot and wind; the only problem here is that the ridges on aperture and shutter rings are positioned for use with the right hand, and can require a bit of fumbling to find the first time.

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It’s worth taking a moment to mention loading, too: you can load backs independently of cameras (there’s a dark slide you have to remember to remove before shooting – the camera will not shoot with it in place, nor can you remove the back without inserting it first); you can interchange backs mid-roll; and you can even add digital backs – to any V-series Hasselblad that can take an A-magazine. Film must be loaded in the right direction and snaked through the rollers, then under the pressure plate tab (close the back opening key), onto the opposite spool, caught, then wound til ‘START’ shows on the roll. You’ve got to wind some films a bit further along or risk losing part of the first frame; Acros with its narrow spools and late start point is a bit notorious for this. Then you open the opening key, load the back, close the key, and wind until the frame count hits ‘1’. Let’s just say you won’t be doing this in a hurry, though it can be done in under a minute with some practice.

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That’s just handling: we now come to the left-right inversion of the waist level finder (with folding hood), and the fact that the cameras have no meter unless you buy one of the meter prisms (which also fixes the inversion problem, but unfortunately also looks very, very ugly; it spoils the lines of the camera – especially the chrome ones, because the finders are black plastic). Assuming you can get used to that, and the pop-up magnifier required for critical focusing, then you’ll probably get over the hump and start to find the camera becomes very transparent in use. Since there are only three controls (aperture/ shutter/ focus) and two of them coupled via a button on later lenses in a sort of program mode (aperture/ shutter), there isn’t much to set; the viewfinder is truly enormous and bright, making composition and focusing a breeze – especially with one of the prism finders – and simply puts everything else I’ve used to shame. A full frame DSLR will look like a dark cave in comparison, and a consumer APS-C DSLR like trying to peer through a drinking straw. It’s very, very difficult to go back.

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Figure out a grip that’s natural to you; train your eye to work as a meter (or pick up one of those little handy Voigtlander VC-Meter IIs) and suddenly you’re in a rhythm: compose, focus, hit the shutter, ‘whump’, wind; repeat. The solid, low-pitched ‘thump!’ of the mirror and secondary curtains is oddly reassuing in an addictive sort of way. There’s less vibration than you might think; partially because of good damping, partially because you’re not pushing down on the shutter but backwards, and partially because you can ease it quite smoothly. There’s also mirror lockup; use this and you hear no more than the very quiet ‘tic!’ of the leaf shutter. Of course you can’t frame precisely, since it is an SLR after all…

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I think one of the high points of the camera has to be the lenses: with the exception of one Schneider zoom, all of the V mount lenses are Carl Zeiss optics, made in Germany, with T* coatings. They render in a very three-dimensional way with wonderful microcontrast and saturation; there’s a tonal richness present on film or digital that shows these lenses were the best in the day – and can still very much play at the top of the game now; hence the proliferation of adaptors (V to H, V to Leica S) even on newer cameras. Interestingly, the lenses also hold up very well on even high density digital sensors – I’ve tested most of mine on my D800E with an adaptor and was very surprised by the results, which were actually very consistent with the modern ZF.2 series in both resolution and overall rendering style.

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Given the frequency with which I post images shot with my 501/501CM, you’ve all probably figured out by now that I’m extremely fond of these cameras; I find them creatively challenging, and the results hugely rewarding; in fact, almost all of my personal photography is done with a V series these days. They make me stop and think when I shoot – as a result, my keeper rate is astronomically high compared to digital – about 80-90% vs 2-3% – and of course black and white film delivers tonality that’s unmatched by digital, of course providing it’s properly developed. I will be honest: they aren’t for everybody; however, it’s very, very easy to get hooked on the enormous negatives that come out of it…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!


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  1. Thanks for the article 🙂 I have a 501cm too. I love it. Do you know of an (affordable) decent digital back for it?

    • One of the older Phase One P series, perhaps. But all will have crop factors that make the whole thing render very differently to film…

  2. Brilliant series, thank you very much for these. Been looking for one for some time and always kept telling myself ‘you do not need it’. Yes, of course. On Saturday went for a walk to centre (London) and paid a visit to ApertureUK shop. Surely they had few ‘blads but what surprised me was one. In excellent condition, boxed, 501c complete kit. Couldn’t resist 🙂 I guess I’ll have to sell Leica M6 TTL to get money back.
    Never shot with one, always only dreamt about it. Now it’s loaded with a roll of Ilford Delta Pro 400 and waiting for me to take it out 🙂 Been thinking about trying to do my own film development to speed up process… so much to learn

  3. I saw the photo… and avoided reading the article right away. I have suffered GAS pretty bad this year already. But these seem such compelling value used. Especially since most deals include a Zeiss T* lens, and I look at what I have paid for ZM and ZF lenses on their own… I have enough toys right now, but once I have shaken out what works and what doesn’t from my current toy box, this will come in by way of swap, trade-in, or whatever. Meanwhile I will switch the Ricoh GR to “squares” to get my eye in.

    When I do, I will try to get used to the system in its ‘natural’ state before succumbing to a prism finder.

    • You know, that last line suggests to me you’ve already succumbed 😉

      • Do you mainly shoot with the 80mm, or do you also use a wider or longer lens also?

        • I’ve got the 50, 120 Makro and 150mm lenses too, but it seems that 80mm just feels natural on film…to the point that I almost never use the other lenses unless I need closeups – then the 120 comes out. Different story for digital though, that’s all over the place…I still haven’t found a comfortable setup yet.

      • Just pulled with trigger on an artist’s kit via eBay – 501CM, 80/2.8, 150/4, 24 back, 12 back and some other bits and pieces. Will arrive in a few days. Do you recommend Ersnt Wildi’s book The Hasselblad Manual: A Comprehensive Guide to the System? Or are there other resources for the completely uninitiated? What have I got myself in to???!!!

  4. Charlie says:

    Excellent. One correction: the sound isn’t ‘thump’; it’s a hollow “kerflopp”. Can’t wait to see what you do with the SWC.

    • ‘Whump’ perhaps?

      SWC is next up. I didn’t have it for long because the camera was defective, but I did get a chance to shoot a few rolls with it.

  5. HI Ming,
    I have admired your work for a while and wonder where you process your film and if you print your digital in studio.

    • Thanks I process my own film and the digital printing is handled by my friend and printmaster Wesley Wong…

      • Have you written a post on your B&W film developing process? I am in love with your process!!!

        • Sorry, nope – and I don’t intend too. It’s too specific – you need to expose the same film exactly the same way, use the same developer/ temperature etc and intend to have the same output (ie DSLR scan plus further workflow as opposed to printing or say normal drum scan) – a lot of work here and not much applicability I think…

  6. Fascinating Read. Do you think part of the magic of the 501CM is using an 80mm lens as normal?

    • I think it might well be. The FOV is very similar to a 50mm, but the big difference is the way it renders – 80mm gives you much more separation even at comparable apertures.

  7. Hi Ming: I enjoy your comments, on hassy as well as leicas… May I give my reasons to give up pentax 67, Fuji 680 studio camera and some 4X5 studio cameras: When checking out the hasselblad system with CFi lenses, it struck me that all the lenses “feel” the same: Adjustment locations, levers, size of the focusing barrel etc. Also the lens quality feels the same, there are no “supersharp” lenses and some mediorce ones as there are in the other systems (pentax/mamiya) When during a shoot, you change a lens, the feel of the image will stay the same, just picture angle changes. Some are put away by the fact that there is nothing automatic in loading film into hasselblad cassette/film back.. Hehe, it ws designed for a Professional who had assistant for loading the film. If film loading would need electricity to load the cassette, the assistant would have needed an extra body…
    I think hasselblad V series is the greatest middle format SYSTEM. If you just have one body and lens, it is not a system and you miss most of the good stuff…

    • Thanks Jukka. I agree: lens quality is consistently excellent, though there are a few standouts like the 120 makro, 40 IF and 250/350 SA – there are no duds though. For those of us without assistants – have a few spare backs and preload them, or shoot with the digital backs…

  8. I’m curious. When you travel out of Malaysia, such as Fukuoka, how much film do you bring with you? Or how much do you shoot with the hasselblad? Or do you tend to buy all film on location? or do you spend most days switching between the hasselblad and the OMD?

    From curious analogue user.

    • It depends where I’m going and what I’m doing. I brought enough film for the trip to Fukuoka because I wasn’t sure about availability – just as well, as it seems that all the camera shops could yield was a couple of packs of Acros in 120. Tokyo I’ll probably not bring any film at all; just a couple of rolls for immediate needs in case I see something on the way to buying film 🙂 No sense in putting film through x-ray more times than it needs to be. On that particular Fukuoka trip, I didn’t bring the OM-D – just a D-Lux 6 which was on loan for review. Since the 501 is mostly for personal work, I’ll probably just supplement it with a compact (now, Ricoh GR) in a pocket. Otherwise, it’s GR and OM-D for travel.

  9. Hi
    What about a nikon D4 review? Would be nice to have your opinion

  10. Hi Ming, been following your blog for awhile now, but never commented… Just wanted to let you know how much I’ve enjoyed reading your “film diaries” especially the MF entries such as this one. I have enjoyed shooting a 500C/M since about the mid-80’s and still shoot with it to this day. I have several lenses and misc accessories and in all this time nothing have ever failed me!

    Also, put me down as another one interested in your scanning rig; I check your blog nearly every day with great anticipation to see an announcement in this regard…

    • Thanks Alan! The scanning rig is taking longer than I expected – seems like precision manufacturing in small runs is both expensive and not so simple to accomplish. We’re on the third prototype and redesign now, and hopefully it should be sorted and ready to go soon…but I don’t want to announce anything until it’s properly ready to go. New target is end-August.

  11. Hi Ming, it’s 15 years since I shot film / slide and nowadays I just use a compact digital but I’ve been following along with your film cameras, anyway. The other day an “internet photographer” mentioned a simple technique he uses to give his digital images a slight film look, namely high pass filter (around 1%) then add noise (< 4%) for a "grain" effect. I tried this on some of my images and I liked the effect of slightly "roughing up" a digital image. But then my mind drifted off in the direction of what should digital look like and what should film look like and never the twain shall meet etc. Do you have any views or thoughts on this topic?

    [I know that another characteristic of film is its ability to retain highlights, but as digital gets better and better DR, then it too can hang on to the highlights longer.]

    • I think it’s both and neither – not the absolute dynamic range, but the nonlinearity of how it’s recorded with film is something that digital still can’t match. Grain I can live without, personally.

  12. Larry Cloetta says:

    I’ve enjoyed your blog for some time now, and this series is no exception. I’m not going to list all the cameras I’ve owned or currently own as no sane person would admit to that kind of obsession, but let’s just stipulate I’ve had aHasselblad in the distant past (much older than you, Ming), and stable now includes an F6, D800E, and, well, many, many others others. But, if anyone would ask me what my favorite camera of all time was, the one I enjoy above all others I own or have ever owned, I would not hesitate to say it would be the Contax 645. Haptics, lenses, ease of use, results, it’s all there, a true pleasure to use. To me it just feels more “right” than any other camera I own.
    In terms of haptics, I also enjoy my Contax RX 1s (all 3 of them!), more than my F6, even though the F6 is more capable as a body, though that is another story.
    To each his own, but if you love medium format film and have not tried a Contax 645, at length, you perhaps should. Just a suggestion.

    Also, put me down as another one perhaps interested in your film “scanning” rig whenever that is finalized, depending on the cost. I’ve got a Nikon 9000 scanner, but worry about what happens if that ever goes down, and also curious if using a D800E and your device could equal or even surpass the results from the 9000.

    Thank you ever so much for the work and intelligence you bring to the photographic community.

    • Thanks Larry. Do you still own the Contax? It’s a system that I’ve found appealing mainly because of AF Zeiss lenses and its compatibility with digital backs, but they’re still very pricy and support is pretty much non-existent.

      I’m getting better results out of the prototype device and D800E than a Flextight…so I think it might well beat your 9000. It’ll definitely be faster, at any rate.

      • Larry Cloetta says:

        Ming, Well, they’re not as expensive as they used to be :). I do still own it, and it sees regular use. There is the support issue, but that is more theoretical than real up until the point that something were to fail, for which possibility I obtained a back up body just in case. Up until recently factory support was available, though I think the time limit may have expired on that. Have never had the slightest issue with the camera, and, at any rate, I’m 63 so my sense is that the probability that my body will fail before that of the Contax is extremely high. You pays your money and you takes your chances, as they say. The camera has been such a joy to work with I would not have wished to have deprived myself of it on the off chance that it would fail.
        At any rate, built like a tank, and, yes, the lenses.
        Using the Coolscan 9000 is anything but fast, and certainly not a labor of love. Will be following the progress on your solution with interest.
        Thanks, again.

        • That’s also very true. I’m just looking at prices relative to other MF bodies…out of curiosity, how fast (or not) is the AF?

          • Larry Cloetta says:

            Well, it’s faster than the Hasselblad, that’s one way to look at it, or slower than my $300 Nikon V1′ that’s the other way to look at it:)

            But, seriously though, if I had never read posts on the Internet to the effect that the Contax 645 autofocus was “slow” it would never have occurred to me, after years of using the camera, that it was “slow”. After a Hasselblad, a Rolleiflex, and a Yashicamat, the autofocus on the 645 seemed to me a miraculous godsend.

            Autofocus on the D800 is practically instantaneous, and this isn’t that. If the D800 takes 1/1,000 of a second to focus and the Contax takes 1/10th of a second to focus does that really matter–outside of sports or birds in flight–in terms of usability and results? If the focus point is on the subject it doesn’t hunt, and the focus is accurate.
            For me, the useful comparison isn’t to the D800E, it’s to manual focus, so, not quite as instantaneous as the D800E, but doesn’t compromise me at all, and much more convenient and enabling than my Yashicamat:). In years of using the camera I can honestly say that I have never exposed a frame wherein “slow” autofocus was a limiting factor. Then again, if I am at a track meet trying to capture 100 meter hurdlers at the crest of their rise over a hurdle, I take the D800E.

            The Contax is also much easier to manual focus than the D800 as well, so there’s that. It should be noted that not every one of those great lenses is autofocus, the 120 APO Makro Planar for example.

            There are, as ever, for this and every camera, valid reasons not to buy one, but I’d say that “slow” autofocus isn’t one of them. But I’m easy.
            Hope this helps.

            • Haha, very true. Then again, if you happen to zone focus or be nearly at the right distance with the Hasselblad, that might still win…

              Speed doesn’t matter so much with MF film gear. Accuracy, on the other hand is critical. Thanks for the info!

              • Larry Cloetta says:

                You are very welcome. Thanks for the abundance of info you give all of us!

  13. As a guy who shot weddings for 20 years with the V-Series, may I offer a few tips?

    Firstly regarding ergonomics, each hand has two purposes. The left hand cradles the camera and fires the shutter as noted. The right hand winds the film and focuses. The latter function is easily achieved by extending ones right index and middle finger into a V shape to engage the handle of the Quick-focusing handle (Hasselblad # 51700). The handle replaces the rubber ring on CF lenses 40-80mm. Once mastered, you will find this actually quite rapid.

    Regarding prisms, the earlier PM and PME look much better than the later bulbous models. The PM is just a 45° prism, whilst the PME adds metering. Metering is displayed in the PME as EV. This number is also found on the lens. Once EV is set on the lens, the shutter and aperture rings may be rotated in unison with the cross-coupling button. Similar to Nikon’s Flexible Program Mode.

    And lastly, when working on a tripod, the pre-release function is always used to eliminate camera shake. It releases the mirror and then the lens shutter is released via cable.

    Glad you are enjoying the Hasselblad V System.

    • Thanks for the tips! I’ve got go find one of those handles – or perhaps a few so each lens has one. The trouble now is that obscure V series accessories are really quite tricky to find. I’m using an earlier PM5 when I need a prism; I prefer the stability and the speed of use, but it adds quite a bit of weight and honestly…makes the camera quite ugly. No issue with metering; I’m training my eyes and have a small VC-Meter II in a pocket when I need it. Completely agree on mirror lockup – I use it all the time when I’m on a tripod, it’s a critical MUST with the digital back. The leaf shutter itself is very, very low vibration though.

    • Wonderful tips. Thanks

  14. My goodness Ming,
    Trying to read these posts without lusting over this gorgeous gear is a Sisyphean task! They just don’t make ’em like they used to..

    • That’s the point 🙂 Appreciate, enjoy, and then be pleasantly surprised when you discover that this gorgeous piece of design and engineering can be had in mint condition for less than a midrange plastic DSLR body, then be surprised again when you find it’s held its value after a year or two of use…

  15. Oskar O. says:

    I believe that the classic Hasselblad is a camera that one either loves or hates. There are some quirks due to the all-mechanical design (cocking the shutter in the lens), but the modularity and craftmanship are very nice in this day and age of throwaway cameras. All accessories seem to be designed with the whole system in mind and while expensive (at least originally), they do work. Take bayonet filters and hoods: they are unusual, but very practical in field with putting them on and off is a breeze and size are standard so one doesn’t end up with a bunch of step rings and different sized hoods (and I would like to aim that last bit at certain Japanese companies…)

    Hasselblads are actually pretty compact too considering the large film size. On the negative side, hand holding the 180/4 lens is a bit of a chore and it’s still just a short tele. One nice aspect is that the shape of the body makes it very nice to operate on a tripod; 35 mm SLRs tend to be front-heavy, but with the smaller lenses Hasselblad is pretty balanced and the center of gravity is low. I’ve found that I can actually get away with a slightly less robust tripod due to this if I’m in a tight spot. Of course shooting hand held is part of the fun.

    The only thing with the lenses is that the pentagon-shaped aperture becomes a bit of a cliche after a few closeups. OTOH, DOF control really is something with 6×6 compared to 35 mm.

    • Agreed – it’s not the most ergonomic of cameras, and frankly, I hated it the first time I used one in 2006; however, I’ve since come to love the simplicity and having all of the photographic controls in one place around the lens barrel. Mirror lockup is both necessary and easy, and the shutter is quite progressive so it’s easy to trigger at exactly the precise time you want. As for the filters: buy a set of B60-62mm rings off ebay for about $5 each, put them on the filters you normally use, and voila – no need to find dedicated B filters…

      I don’t think I’m steady enough to hand hold the 180; even the 150 is a bit of challenge because your shutter speed maxes out at 1/500s. It’s enough for film, but not enough for critical sharpness on the digital backs.

      • Oskar O. says:

        Wouldn’t B60-62 mm vignette on wideangles? I assume the adapters clear the hoods, which is the biggest problem with adapters.

        I bought the most critical filters when they were cheap. Broke an UV filter earlier this year and figured to replace it, but the cheapest I saw on eBay was around $50 and since I paid $10 for mine, I decided to forget it and looking to adapt the glass of some screw filter to the frame.. Anyway, B60 filter prices seem to be a bit on the high side nowadays, probably need to use some screw filters since I lack a K2 Yellow in B60.

        The 180 works best with a prism, but that’s another can of worms… One of my pain points is that none of Hasselblads digital backs work with the 90 degree prism, although it may be good for the bank account since it’s one of the things keeping me from buying a digital back. Anyway, the 180 is a nice lens, but mine (CFi) is unnecessarily stiff to focus. My favorite though, is the 50 FLE.

        • No vignettes issues on my 50 FLE with either film or digital; having the ability to use the great 62mm Zeiss filters…

          I think there’s a right angle finder that works with a digital back, but it’s a bit of a kludge from what I understand.

      • Thorsten says:

        I would suggest to get 67mm adaptor and filters instead as that is exactly the sice of the lens; if you put a 67mm filter to it, it looks as if it was built for it. 62mm is smaller in diameter than the lens.

        • I’ve not had a problem with vignetting, and B60-67 wasn’t an option when I was buying…otherwise if I’m stepping up I’d prefer 77mm since I’ve got more filters in that size already.

  16. britt leckman says:

    Ming, I have to credit an article of yours several years ago regarding the Hasselblad CFV-39 digital back for getting me back into the “V” system. I was considering the Hasselblad “H” system, but just did not like the way it felt compared to the memories I had of a long since sold 500cm. After reading about your experiences with the CFV, it peaked my interest so much I decided to look into the “V” system once more. For the cost of a new H system digital camera with one lens, I was able to get the CFV-39, a used 503cw body, and five very nice used CF lenses. It was one of the best things I have done equipment wise in a very long time. The tactile joy of just holding a 500 series camera is a joy, every time I walk by the camera sitting on the shelf, I just want to pick it up! The photos that come out of that camera are consistently a marvel. Yes, the CFV-39 digital back is kludgy, and rotating the camera for a vertical shot somewhat cumbersome, even with a prism, but using this camera has forced me to the conclusion that with the auto everything world of digital photography today my technique was getting very sloppy and generic. I can see the difference in my photographs when I started to take time to deliberate before tripping the shutter with the Hasselblad. Of course, now I want a SWC too…

    • I’m not sure the credit is due since the site has only been running for about 18 months 🙂 But, glad you’re enjoying it! I made a similar decision – for the price of an ex-demo H4D-50, I got an entire V system with a full set of lenses, the back, a whole bunch of film backs and accessories. It’s a very different animal to the H4; it has personality. Hope you got a film back with yours too – those 6×6 negatives are magic.

  17. Mads Jaeger says:

    Wonderful piece Ming, thanks a lot! I have just borrowed a Mamiya 645 with an 80 f/2.8 and a 210 f/4 and have shot my first roll of Ilford HP4. Wonderful slowed-down and contemplative experience. Will pick up the developed film today and I’m anxious to see how they turned out. May treat myself to a Hassy if I get into this stuff

    • Thanks Mads – enjoy! The best thing about medium format now is the rock bottom prices…all that great gear available for very, very little. And you’re not going to lose anything if you decide it’s not for you and resell it later.

  18. This article must be a reward for fixing the trap seal in my film back. Thank you! 🙂

    Serious question: do you use a strap? I find the standard strap is kind of awkward when the camera’s hanging on my shoulder because the lugs are near the camera’s center of gravity, so it doesn’t like to stay still when it’s hanging while I’m walking around.

    • I haven’t found a good strap that I like. The hasselblad one seems a little thin, and the A&A ones are about the same but they have that dual action thing that makes it easy to adjust the length of the strap. I currently used an optech strap which is nice but a little awkward. (1) a dog peed on my cloth strap (2) the thickness of the strap is inconsistent which makes it a little awkward when it gets tangled. (3) it has clips that I feel might someday wear out and my hasselblad will plummet to the floor.
      i’m looking for a new strap for my hasselblad.

      I adore my 501CM for many of the reasons that Ming mentioned here. To elaborate, the stand-out point for me is how it forces me to be aware of everything before I take a picture. The manual controls makes me very aware of my exposure and lighting. The huge matte screen gives me a great view for my composition. The noise affirms that I have taken my shot and I cannot take it back again.

      There is another reason I now use a Hasselblad 501cm. I use to use a full Mamiya TLR C220 system with lenses. It has three distinct advantages over the hasselblad. (1) leaf shutter is quieter on the street. (2) TLR design makes me look like a hipster and people don’t care what I take pictures of (3) It is not a hasselblad and there won’t be creepy old men staring and pointing saying, “dude check it out! it is a hasselblad.” That is not to say that the Mamiya didn’t have its draw-backs. The main reason I switched to the Hasselblad is because of film backs. (1) I adore using the polaroid back. Which I use to take pictures of people and give them a print with my contact information for some of my street portraiture projects. (2) different film backs for different environments. i.e. from indoors to outdoors (3) more accurate framing when closer than 1.5 metres.

      I’m now hoping that the hasselblad will continue to give me many many more years of faithful service.

    • Haha – did you solve the light leak problem in the end?

      No, I don’t use a strap. I tried it but found that I didn’t like the way the mount lugs articulated and sometimes interfered with the controls, or caught my hands. Just have to be careful not to drop it 🙂 That said, I keep a strap in my bag just in case I need to shoulder it to have both hands free for something.

      • I sure hope so, but I haven’t run a roll through it yet! It’s a pretty simple fix, but due to my own incompetence, I had to do it 3 times before the back worked again due to the springs and latches not being in their right places when I put it back together. I’m surprised the light leak was as minimal as it was as the original light seal was literally gone. The dark slide had pushed it down to the lower edge of the film back.

        Thanks Jason and Ming for the strap thoughts. I’m going to try one of those tripod-mounted straps from Carryspeed that I remember Ming didn’t get along so well with, but maybe it will be better on a heavy camera than a smaller APS-C digicam. If you do drop it, I’d worry more about your feet than the camera!

        • There isn’t that much light that can make it through the slot anyway; it’s rather small and shielded by your hand most of the time.

          As for the straps – the carryspeed works quite well on the Hasselblad – much better than on smaller cameras – but has to be taken off for tripod mounting.

          • Could use a BlackRapid RS-4 Camera Strap with FastenR-2 (FR-2) connector screwed into a Kirk QRC-1 Quick Release Clamp. This will quickly detach from an Arca Swiss plate for Hasselblad when switching from a strap to a tripod connection. {WARNING: Must use a secondary safety strap to prevent camera & lens from falling if the primary fastening detaches or the camera’s tripod attachment fails. Also, this may be a bad idea since camera and lens tripod attachments are designed for sufficient compression strength when mounted on top of a tripod and not for strength in tension when hung upside down, and such abuse will likely void the warranty. Not sure if the Hasselblad bottom is strong enough. Nikon states that their equipment is “not designed to be hung by the tripod socket” and there is a report of a Nikon D800 DSLR camera being a total loss due to deformity of the base plate (ripping the camera open sufficiently to let light leak into the body) which cannot be repaired. Similarly, the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR II tripod attachment is not strong enough to be hung upside down this way and a stronger attachment is needed (Really Right Stuff LCF-10P Plate Fix). Also Rolleiflex TLR bottoms are very weak, being only deformable sheet aluminum, that is too thin even for safe mounting on a tripod without being strengthened by the use of a Rolleifix tripod connector.}

            • plevyadophy says:

              Thanks. Great info for the photographic community

              @ Kerry

              Wow!! Thanks!!!

              I am usually pretty careful with my equipment, but I had absolutely no idea that camera base plates and tripod collars were so weak; when I followed that link you provided to the Really Right Stuff LCF-10P, I was quite shocked to discover how weak the tripod collar foot of the Nikon 70-200 is.

              I have seen so many people lately carry their camera and lens using those fancy straps that connect to the lens tripod collar or camera base plate and just assumed that the connections on the camera and lenses could withstand the stress.

              It’s a real eye opener to learn otherwise.



            • Thanks Kerry. I use the RRS system on all of my cameras, and for quickly connecting and disconnecting my CS strap, I use their B2-FAB-F clamp, which they recommend specifically for shoulder straps. It works well, but is a bit bulky, even on a large camera like medium format film camera.

              About tension vs. compression, I guess all tripod screws use some amount of tension since they are pulling the tripod’s platform against the camera’s bottom. I wonder what the load is like for holding a camera to a platform compared to when it’s hanging off your shoulder. There are sideways forces, and it probably depends on what else is hanging on the camera, and whether there are any extra loads on the socket from sudden decelerations, like dropping a camera and having its motion suddenly stopped by the strap. Maybe a springy strap, like an Optech, might be better since the deceleration will be made longer by the strap’s stretch.

  19. I’ve often wondered if a modern 35mm based mirrorless incarnation of this camera might make sense. Consider:
    -There is a current retro craze
    -The cube shape could allow say PentaxRicoh to maintain a large flange distance (K mount) and place a movable LCD top as a finder (inversion done digitally.)
    -Mirrorless LCD composition would likely be more stable cradled and on strap than at arms length.
    Since your recent promotion to CEO in charge of new camera development 😉 and your masterful use of the original (I’ve never used medium format) I’d like to heard your ideas of such a concept. I can think of 2 negatives, would likely require a square sensor (not bad in today’s Instagram world) also the major 35mm SLR mounts don’t have a history of this form of camera to “throw back” to.

    • I think it would, but why Pentax? It’s a Hasselblad. They should have made this instead of the Lunar…

      • Yes, I agree that the Lunar would’ve been the ideal with an NEX (short flange) mount but NEX wouldn’t require a “cube”, and I doubt the alpha mount would be used for such a concept. I only suggested Pentax since:
        -It’s what I shoot, and I was suggesting an existing 35mm mount but EOS, F, or even M42 would be similar,
        -Pentax has a strong commitment to legacy lenses and their K mount
        -Was thinking of the overly thick k-01 mirrorless that maintained the flange distance, but fared poorly due to the modern design.

        @plevyadophy I didn’t know about that cam, it looks like it was ahead of its time.

        • That makes sense; I think Nikon might work too – similarly due to legacy lenses etc – but they don’t really have a history of being very creative…

    • plevyadophy says:

      @JMAW Works

      The Sony DSC-R1 had, kinda, the design you speak of.

      It had a top mounted LCD. So you could look down at it to compose your shot and either brace the cam against your stomach or chest, or brace by way of tension on a neck strap.

      Unfortunately, it was a camera design before it’s time and far too many people just didn’t “get it” except for a bunch of nerdy geeks/individualists like myself.

      Go take a look at it; a very interesting cam.

      A mirrorless medium format cam would be a dream, whether with a fixed lens like the aforementioned Sony DSC-R1 or with interchangeable leaf-shutter lenses. Who will be first to market with a mirrorless MF cam is anyone’s guess, but my bet is that it will either be Pentax or Phase One.


    • There was a cube shaped Rolleiflex 3003 35mm camera.

  20. Mark Olwick says:

    The 503CW was the final incarnation of the V line, not the 501CM.

  21. Hi Ming, any chance you can show us some colour film in a future post?

    • Highly unlikely for several reasons – availability in 120, lack of a good place to develop it, and frankly I prefer digital for color to everything I’ve seen in film. Doesn’t make sense to do it just for the sake of it.

      • Iskabibble says:

        While the availability of film and developing is a serious issue that can prevent you from color work, the look of color film in medium format should not be dismissed casually. It is *incredible*. All that analogue goodness found in monochrome work is very much present in color. Kodak Porta, Fuji 160NS, and Fuji Provia 100F are stunning films, capable of taking your breath away.

        You mentioned that you were going to shoot some color film in Japan. I look forward to that immensely.

        • That’s the plan…but don’t hold your breath as I won’t be getting out to Japan again til the end of November.

          • Iskabibble says:

            That’s a short wait for color film goodness. With slide film potentially nearing the end of its life, it would be great if you could do an article looking back at that, hopefully breathing some life into this film (Provia & Velvia) to stimulate some demand, and keep it going a bit more.

            It will be an immense loss once we lose these films.

            • I’m going to have to shoot some first – I haven’t shot slide in about six years. Perhaps after the Tokyo visit in November…

              • Iskabibble says:

                Provia is just so damned expensive. I bought a roll today, $9.50 for 135/36. That vs $4 for the Neopan 400 I bought with it.

                • Still cheaper than here. Acros is about $6 if you can find it, last time I bought Provia it was $12 – in 2006! And that’s before the disparity widens even more after factoring in developing costs; $0.50 in chemical for the B&W stuff and $10 to send out slide…


  1. […] or “worse” or “sharper” I cannot say. Ming Thein wrote an excellent overview of the 501CM if you want more details – there is also a guide to the V-System on […]

  2. […] slog mig plötsligt att jag borde haft en Hasselbladskamera med mig. En 501:a av något slag, med ljusschakt och riktig film. Svartvit film, förstås. Och så framkallad hemma, där jag kan […]

  3. […] series was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, 4/50 C T*, 4/150 CF T*, CFV-50C digital back and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass […]

  4. […] those occasions for me. I went with my usual small digitals (OM-D, Ricoh GR) for teaching, and the Hasselblad 501C with one magazine, a few boxes of Acros 100, and the 80/2.8*. And I came back with a huge number of […]

  5. […] distributors 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 […]

  6. […] equipped with a 28mm lens when I do this kind of work; usually in the form of the Ricoh GR. 45 (Hassy V/80mm) and 55 (D800E/Otus) combinations have also been tried recently. But only since Havana have I used […]

  7. […] mind was more focused on the final product than the b-roll. I admit that I did consider using the Hasselblad 501CM and CFV-39; however, I didn’t need the 1/500s sync (balancing with continuous sources, […]

  8. […] context and thought behind the rationale and whys of my image-making. MT This set was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CF 2.8/80 and CF 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital […]

  9. […] challengers. Lining up on the right are the Pentax 645D (33x44mm, 40MP) and Hasselblad CFV-39 on a 501CM body (49x37mm, 39MP) against the Pentax 645Z (33x44mm, 51MP) and Nikon D800E (24x36mm, 36MP). Perhaps we […]

  10. […] slower, more meditative aspect; in this case, almost all of the images in this set were shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, 2.8/80 or 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital back, with a few thrown in from the Ricoh GR and […]

  11. […] shot with a Ricoh GR, Olympus E-M1/ Panasonic 12-32 pancake zoom and Hasselblad 501CM, CFV-39 digital back and […]

  12. […] set was shot with a Hasselblad 501CM, CF 2.8/80 and CF 4/150 lenses and the CFV-39 digital […]

  13. […] second part of the monochrome photoessay from Prague was shot on film, with a Hasselblad 501C and my favourite B&W film – Fuji Acros 100. To be honest, given the tight quarters, […]

  14. […] the same backs the V series takes) – I covered this in the previous instalment in the series here. There’s one important catch, though: this is a scale focus-ONLY camera. Since there’s […]

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