Camera Review: Hasselblad 500C/M

March 18, 2009

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After I wrote a short summary about the Leica M3 some months ago, this time I would like to introduce one more of my favorite cameras, the Hasselblad 500C/M which I have been using for a couple of years.
Again: This is not about technical questions or lens quality. Technical reviews are all over the web and I have to admit that I do not care very much about them. For me a camera is mostly about user friendliness, durability and the “look” of the images, while my favorite look can be quite contrary to the common perception of “quality”.

The Hasselblad is a 6×6 medium format film camara that has been around for many decades. The design of Hasselblad’s V-series cameras hasn’t changed very much since the 1930s. That’s why it doesn’t really matter if I talk about the 500C, the 500C/M, 501 CW or any others. They are all very similar. It’s basically a modular system. The corpus + mirror, the waist level viewfinder, film cassette, and the lens are all separate and can be disassembled very easily. Every part is exchangeable and can be bought seperately. This makes the hasselblad a truly professional camera.
The Hasselblad is mainly designed to be a studio camera. It is clunky and quite heavy, the mirror is loud and it works better with a tripod. Even though compared to today’s professional DSLRs I find that the weight seems to be rather moderate. I use it a lot on the street and during travels because I like the high image resolution and the fact that I don’t need to raise the camera to my eyes when taking pictures of people.
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What makes the Hasselblad special and in my view superior to other Medium Format systems is the quality of its viewfinder. Its waist level finder (especially with the accumate version) is the biggest and brightest that I know. Looking through that viewfinder is almost like a three dimensional experience. Together with the super sharp Zeiss lenses this produces christal clear images. This combination of sharp lenses with a very bright viewfinder makes the “Hassi” perfect for portrait photography, fashion, and (in my view) medium format street photography.
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Hasselblad cameras are widely available on the second hand market. Older models like the 500CM are not very expensive anymore and are often sold as a package version, together with lens ad film back. This is not necessarily the best option. I advise everybody not to buy an old mechanical camera without personal inspection. There is a lot that can be spoiled, especially in a Hasselblad that has the shutter in its lens and needs all mechanical connections to be perfectly working.
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Another weak point is the film back. I have struggled quite a lot with light leaks in “cheap” second hand film backs. This is particular annoying when you come back from a trip to Tibet only to find out that 70% of your output is spoiled. So I advise everybody to buy a new film back, even though it’s not cheap (at all!). The same applies for lenses!

The Hasselblad is not only a beautiful classic camera but also quite a bargain compared to a professional digital system. The handling is not easy in the beginning, but the results can be stunning. No wonder it was the medium format system of choice for many famous photographers incl. Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon etc etc etc…

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11 Responses to “Camera Review: Hasselblad 500C/M”

  1. nadja Says:

    ich wünsche mir, irgendwann paar filme mit hassi zu machen, um das zu erleben, wovon ihr alle berichtet. bisweilen bin ich mit meiner kiev sehr glücklich…


  2. I agree with you on everything you said.
    As long as there will be film available, the Hasselblad 501 c/m will be my most used camera. DSLRs will never reach the warmth of a medium format film image. Yes, a Hasselblad is quite heavy and indeed not a snapshot camera. However, it can be used for “quick shots”, it does not necessarily demand a tripod and the handling is just superb. Compared to a Rolleiflex it is still a “light” camera. Good lenses are a very important thing but a standard 80mm lens is good enough for most of my images. Leaking film backs can be a problem, but can normally easily be fixed by exchanging the port seal. Film backs in very good overall condition are rare. I was lucky in getting two in mint condition made in 2001 and I bet these will be my everlasting backs.


  3. This is quite a good Hasselblad 500 series review of. In fact they are available for a good price on the second hand market. But you need to keep in mind the maintenance costs. Camera service can be expensive and it should be done by an expert. Of course technicians who are able to maintain a Hasselblad are not easy to find. But anyway, I love my Hasselblad and have never regret my decision to buy one.

    Thomas


    • Hi Thomas,
      agree to what you say. I had to pay quite a bit after some parts of my second hand hasselblad broke down. Especially the film backs and the old lenses are prone to mechanical failure. Saying that, every part that was bought after thorough check ups never failed me!


  4. I got my hasselblad 500CM on ebay, mint but it had some mechanical issues. However, after a good CLA by a reputable repairman, it was given a new lease of life and has never failed me:) I’m always amazed by the quality of images it has given me:)

  5. Xavier F Says:

    Does anyone know of a good reputable CLA/repair Hasselblad “mechanic”?

  6. Andrew Says:

    Thanks for this – I now have a 500 CM and your review is quite encouraging!! All the best for 2012 (Mayan calendar notwithstanding … Lol)
    Cheers

  7. Madhvi Says:

    hey, could you please let me know if i could buy a husselblad 500CM: a package version online? a trusted site though :/

    thanks so much! 🙂


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