Shooting medium format is a magical experience. Film is known to slow down your shooting process but medium formats take it to a whole new level. You’re there carefully positioning the bulky medium format camera, manually metering and working with limited negatives per roll to get the best shot for your buck. It’s definitely slower, more intimate style of shooting. I’ve been lucky to have shot on many brands such as Bronicas to Mamiyas, but there’s always been a hankering to try what is deemed to be the “Rolex” of medium formats. The Hasselblad. One of their pinnacle models was the Hasselblad 500C/M which I had the joys of testing. I always wanted to try it out but the cost of owning one was the major setback. But now since one is in my hands, I have that one question, was it worth all the hype?
The Hasselblad 500 C/M was the third medium-format, single lens reflex camera (SLR) designed and produced in Sweden by Dr. Victor Hasselblad in 1970. The 500 C/M is a modified version of the earlier Hasselblad 500 C. It comes with a focus screen that is easily removable and replaceable to your heart's desires. It accepts standard 120 or 220 film and produces 6x6 negatives per roll. The beauty of the camera is the system - completely modular. This means you can customize each piece ranging from the viewfinder to the advance knob. Even with all the customizability, the 500 C/M is in fact quite simple in its design and features. There aren’t any unnecessary bells and whistles. It is fully manual and mechanical. There’s no need to use any batteries. It’s the lack of electronics on the Hasselblad that has helped its longevity last beyond many other medium format manufacturers from the same period!
The Blad also has a unique feature where the shutter & aperture is set on the lens barrel, not on the body. It’s a strange and quirky way to shoot but it doesn’t take long for you to become familiar with the process of adjusting shutter & aperture. The Hasselblad also comes with a sync mechanism if using a flash and a maximum shutter speed of 1/500 sec.
So how does the Hasselblad 500 C/M fair?
So let’s talk about the things I liked about the Hasselblad. The Hasselblad I got to use had a fairly wide Carl Zeiss 50mm (35mm equivalent) F/4.0 lens which is perfect for me to play with. Firstly, I loved the ergonomics of the body. It’s super portable! It’s small and lightweight (1.4kg vs 2.8kg Mamiya RB67). Secondly, the satisfying shutter sound ‘Ka-Klunk’ when you press down always makes me giddy. I kid you not, there’s actually ASMR videos using the 500 C/M acoustic loading and shutter sounds. Nevertheless, a strange little moment of joy I’d experience each time.
Thirdly, the simplicity of the body requires you to slow down your shooting process. This isn’t for a run & gun shooter. This is for a more methodical, slow and diligent approach towards photography where each setting and the composition is double checked. Lastly of course is the selection of legendary Carl Zeiss lenses that many deem as one of the best lenses to shoot on. It is worth noting that you’ll need to be prepared to pay hefty prices for the more desirable or rarer lenses so be ready to fork out some extra funds.
However, I definitely had some things that I wasn’t the biggest fan of. Firstly, the maximum shutter speed is 1/500 sec which wasn’t ideal when shooting outdoors with high ISO film unless you’d go to F/16 or F/22 aperture settings.
The biggest gripe many have with the camera is the deep pockets required to own one. In Australia, they go for $1600-3000 depending on the lenses and condition they are in. As a result, I was extra careful with the camera. I didn’t feel comfortable risking it during light rain, or near the beach whilst the sand was blowing or trekking up mountains with dirt and grime everywhere. I understand I shouldn’t put it on a pedestal and instead treat it like a tool but far out was it hard for a while. A few weeks of shooting I became familiar and more comfortable using it in dodgy situations, but I guess that’s the catch when using something more than you can afford.
So where does this camera sit with me? It’s definitely the Rolex of medium formats but in a different way. Yes like a Rolex, the build quality is impeccable, satisfying, smart and you’re buying a name that is revered by many. But like a Rolex, the price is steep for what you get versus other lesser praised brands. In the same week that I tried the Hasselblad 500C/M, I tested a Mamiya RB67, RZ67 & played with my personal Mamiya 645. When I got my photos back from the lab, I could see why the lenses for the 500 C/M were praised. Sharp and contrasty. But for a third of a price, my Mamiya 645 wasn’t far off in quality. Here are some images I took with the Hasselblad:
In fact, I could get a Mamiya 645 1000S + 2-3 lenses for the same price as 1 Hasselblad. So although you are paying for amazing quality, you could get yourself something with a smaller budget that could achieve nearly the same results. Although, I would add that perhaps my 50mm F/4.0 wasn’t the ideal lens to showcase the Hasselblads excellence compared to other lenses such as the lovely 80mm ones, hence my experience has been a bit underwhelming.
However, I did enjoy my time operating and using it. It definitely requires you to slow your process, be experienced enough with manual photography and have deep pockets to enjoy it. Would I recommend this for someone who has never shot medium format? Probably not since manual medium format shooting can be a bit sophisticated for beginners.
If you’ve had experience shooting medium format manually, then by all means it’s worth checking out the Hasselblad. If you’re craving a beautifully designed body, legendary lenses, having a piece of medium format gospel and have deep pockets, then by all means this is worth a try!
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