Ever since the Apollo program, I have lusted after Hasselblads. Yes, they went to the Moon. Swedish design and build, whipped up through the genius of the late Victor Hasselblad. The incredible, sharp, but dreamy, 6×6 cm image they produce has incredible sex appeal. The camera itself, looking like no other, yet highly functional, and beautiful in their simplicity (except for loading for the 1st time). The mystique of owning one of the finest photographic instruments on the planet. Someday, I had to have one. And of course, the killer optics of the German Carl Zeiss glass.
That day became reality last summer, at Photographica, the twice a year show held by The Photographic Historical Society of New England. The condition was right. the price was right. The extras, including the reverse corrected landscape prism, Polaroid back, and strap, were part of the kit, as was the A (automatic) 12 magazine of the newer design. The Carl Zeiss 80mm f/2.8 lens, with its renowned corner to corner sharpness, and near distortion free perspective, is true industrial design brilliance.
Drawbacks? Pet peeves? The fastest 1/500th sec. shutter speed drives me crazy. Mainly because I do like to photograph on occasion midday, and well, this is New England. Sunlight is bad, and harsh. But I don’t want to be limited to “the golden hours”. This is a leaf shutter system, with the shutter in the lens itself. Older Hasselblads, like the 1600, and 1000, had comparative flimsy focal plane shutters located in the camera body itself. they were notorious for failing. This system is extremely reliable, but again, 1/500th is the fastest you can use. Another? Accessories are not cheap. Nor is periodic maintenance/ CLA (clean, lube, and adjust). This is an all mechanical camera. It will likely run forever. But like a car, it needs to come in for “oil changes”. I think a lot of folks truly do take advantage of people with accessory and maintenance prices, mainly because of the Hasselblad aura. The cameras were expensive, so let’s make everything else expensive. It is what it is. Maybe similar to a Mercedes owner who pays $100 or more for a simple oil change.
The pluses? One could go on and on. The insanely sharp, but dreamy looking images. Even wide open, they look incredible. The square 6×6 negative, not subject to photographic cliches such as “the rule of thirds”. You can crop if you want to, but not sure anyone would want to! The system concept, also adopted by Nikon in 1959 with the “F”, two years after Hasselblad introduced the 500 C/M, is fantastic. My model was built in 1988. You can get countless parts, accessories, and add ons, for this camera, practically anywhere online, and even through Hasselblad itself. Their “V System” catalog is a must read for any Hasselblad owner. The camera makes for a great landscape camera, and when handheld properly, a one of a kind portrait camera. With the waist level finder (WLF), it is the ultimate children’s portrait camera (when they are fairly still, that is). If it is action you seek to capture, opt for a different camera, maybe a 35mm. For more “posed” shots, the Hasselblad is truly special.
The camera takes 120 roll film. 12 shots/magazine. If you pick up a second A12 magazine, as I did soon after buying the camera, you can theoretically load one magazine up with, say, Ektar, the other one up with maybe TMax 100, and have one B&W supply, and one color. As they are both 100 speed films, you can use the same metering, and just swap backs mid roll. Don’t forget to insert the darkslide, as you can now take the magazine off, and protect the film from light exposure. While you’re at it, buy an extra darkslide. I keep a third one in the bag- guarantee someday one will be left behind somewhere. There are 220 film magazines available (24 shots/roll), which I have yet to try.
There are lots of great online resources that are very helpful to learn operation of this camera. I still have not become used to the “ground glass” focus system. There are distance calibrations on the barrel of the lens, in meters and feet, that can be helpful. A year after owning it, and I am still what I’d consider in the learning stages. It is simple, yet very complex. Simple to learn, challenging to master. Still a work in progress, for sure. Just wish I had more time to get out there and shoot. The career does get in the way- once you get your 1st shots with a Hasselblad, you are hooked.
Trivia- the Hasselblad makes a cameo appearance in Apollo 18, which I saw last weekend. The movie is suspenseful, visual eye candy. Check for it on board the lunar rover.
Prices on these systems are great right now. Especially compared to what they sold for brand new. There are indeed values to be had. I would strongly buying a camera that was, as was mine, recently CLA’d. It will pay off in the long run.
If you have always wanted a Hasselblad, take the plunge. No regrets. None.